8-year-old facing deportation

Families torn apart by family reunification rules are hoping for another chance from the new government

The case of an eight-year-old girl who is being threatened with deportation has turned the spotlight on DenmarkÂ’s unyielding family reunification rules once again.

Despite her parents’ urgent pleas and letters of support from her teachers the Immigration Service has decided that the Bangladeshi girl Ripa is incapable of integrating and therefore cannot stay with her family in Denmark.

RipaÂ’s is just the latest of nearly 800 cases of children who have been refused residency permits since 2005, according to public broadcaster DR.

RipaÂ’s father, Jamal Ahmed, has lived in Denmark since 1998 and has worked as a dishwasher at Copenhagen’s Hilton Hotel for the past eight years.

Ahmed and RipaÂ’s mother divorced before Ripa was born. In Bangladeshi culture, when couples divorce, the children remain with their biological fathers.

“ThatÂ’s how the culture is in our country. A man can keep his children from an earlier marriage in his new marriage, but the woman cannot. The new husband simply wonÂ’t allow it,” Ahmed told DR.

When RipaÂ’s mother, who still lives in Bangladesh, remarried, she could therefore no longer keep Ripa. At first Ahmed’s mother took care of her, as she was still a toddler and Ahmed was working hard to establish himself in Denmark.

“The plan was that Ripa should come to live with me in Denmark before she began school, so that she could make Danish friends and get an education in Denmark,” Ahmed said.

Two years ago Ahmed brought his new wife, Rumana, and five-and-a-half-year-old Ripa to Denmark. The Immigration Service accepted Rumana’s application for family reunification, but rejected Ripa’s on the grounds that she was too old to integrate successfully.

Changes introduced in 2004 by the Liberal-Conservative government and the Danish People’s Party to the family reunification rules regarding children stipulate that children must be under 15, that their parents must apply to bring them to Denmark within two years of getting their own residency, and that the child must be judged capable of integrating successfully.

The new rules were allegedly introduced to discourage foreign residents from leaving their children for long periods with relatives in their home country, where the children would acquire the other culture’s language and customs instead of Danish ones.

Teachers from RipaÂ’s schools in Denmark have written on her behalf, vouching that she is in fact integrating very well, even though the Immigration Service judged that she could not.

“In the time I have known Ripa she has developed tremendously from being a quiet girl who could barely speak Danish to a girl with self-confidence and fluent Danish. She has playmates and goes to Danish school. She is decidedly capable of integrating,” Ripa’s after-school teacher Henning Hansen wrote to the Immigration Service on her behalf.

The principal of RipaÂ’s school confirmed in a second letter that Ripa was thriving in school, both socially and linguistically. Finally, Ripa’s biological mother also wrote a letter stating that she wanted Ripa to stay with her father in Denmark.

Ahmed continues to fight the Immigration Service with the help of immigration lawyer Ã…ge Kramp. But the state is now threatening to enforce the deportation. Two weeks ago police came to Ahmed’s home, asking to see the family’s passports. Ahmed is afraid of what will happen to Ripa if she is deported.

“There isn’t anyone who will look after her in Bangladesh. My ex-wife cannot take her because of the family structure. My mother is sick and old and is herself being taken care of by family in the US. I don’t know who will take care of my daughter if I cannot keep her,” he told DR.

The Immigration ServiceÂ’s deportation order is not an idle threat.

In March, a 12-year-old Thai boy, Sirapat Kamminsen, was deported despite the objections of his mother and Danish step-father. The reason given was that Sirapat was not sufficiently capable of integrating. Immigration authorities were informed that there were no close relatives in Thailand who could care for him, but he was deported anyway.

The Immigration Service assured The Copenhagen Post that children who are deported always have a parent or other close relative in the home country who can take care of them.

Nevertheless, for the past six months Sirapat has been living with an unrelated, elderly teacher in Thailand, and his family is still fighting to overturn the ruling and bring him back to Denmark, MetroXpress newspaper reports.

SirapatÂ’s step-father, Kurt Viborg, told MetroXpress he was hopeful that the new left-of-centre government would soften family reunification rules so that Sirapat could come back to his family in Denmark.

Nevertheless, while many international families and couples are hopeful about the new government, their situations remain uncertain. The prime minister-designate’s Social Democrats in fact voted for the 2004 bill that led to Sirapat and Ripa being refused residency. Moreover, the Social Dems and their coalition partner, the Socialist PeopleÂ’s Party (SF), have promised to maintain some of the most controversial family reunification rules introduced by the Liberal-Conservative government and the DF, including the 24-year-rule and the ‘attachment requirementÂ’.

The 24-year-rule stipulates that both partners in a relationship must be at least 24-years-old for the foreign partner to get a residency permit, while the ‘attachment requirement’ says families and couples must demonstrate that they are more strongly tied to Denmark than to any other country.

“We said loud and clear that we are not going to change the 24-year-rule and the ‘attachment requirementÂ’ … weÂ’re not behind that,” prime minister-designate Helle Thorning-Schmidt announced just two days before the election.

By contrast, the centrist Social Liberals and far-left Red-Green Alliance have both called for a total elimination of both the controversial points system for family reunification and the 24-year-rule. It remains to be seen, however, how far they can influence the Social Dems and the SF and whether they will be willing to use their political capital to radically revise the country’s immigration rules.

Immigration lawyer Ã…ge Kramp expects that some of the rules will change, but not all.

“The amount of rules in this area is like an iceberg. What the public and most of the politicians see is just the tip of the iceberg,” Kramp told The Copenhagen Post. “The top of the iceberg could change – things like the 24-year-rule – but, then, when you remove the top, the rest of the iceberg begins to pop up.”

Nevertheless, Kramp hopes the immigration rules for children will be reconsidered.

“There might be some non-integrable parents, but the children – they are all innocent,” he added.