Radikale’s immigration workshop gets mixed reviews

Workshop looks to solve immigration issues, one Post-it note at a time

The opening moments of Radikale's workshop to discuss ways to improve service at  Immigration Services were a textbook example of the tensions surrounding the entire national immigration debate.

Zenia Stampe, the immigration spokesperson for Radikale and organiser of the workshop, delivered her welcoming remarks in Danish, explaining that she "was not very good at English”.

She continued that the workshop itself would be conducted in English in an effort to help any new immigrants in the room just starting Danish classes feel more comfortable. At that, a large, older man with greying hair and a goatee exploded from his seat and shouted, in Danish:

"We are in Denmark. It is completely wrong that this workshop be conducted in English. We should speak Danish," he bellowed.

The tension the outburst created in the room was palpable, bringing the divide that informs the immigration debate into sharp focus. For the rest of the evening, the facilitators of the workshop explained everything first in Danish and then in English. The shouter was still not satisfied and grumbled continuously that the event should be Danish only.

The workshop, which drew about 60 people, was facilitated by Ole Jepsen, a professional consultant, whose wife Jenni is an American. Jepsen admitted that he originally responded to his wife's frustration with the Danish immigration process by taking the typically Danish, "That's just the way things are" stance.

His wife said that if they were in the US, her response to the mountains of indecipherable paperwork, endless waiting times and insane bureaucracy would be to call her congressperson.

The Jepsens’ ‘congressperson’ is Stampe.

Stampe said that she has received so many emails like Jepsen's that paint nightmare scenarios of five and six hour waits at the Immigration Service, unanswered emails and cases going unresolved for months and even years, that she decided to hold a workshop.

Her goal was to guage specific complaints and look for solutions. She said she wants to take those messages back to her colleagues in parliament to start working to streamline the system.

The most often heard suggestion from the workshop participants was that the Immigration Service should be scrapped and started over from scratch, but that idea wasn't specific enough to make the final list potential improvements.

More concern for peoples' rights and a sense of security were among the participants’ specific complaints, while free Danish lessons for immigrants and praise for the hardworking (if often overwhelmed) employees at Immigration Services were put forward as things that are currently working.

Reaction to the style and possible outcomes of the process was mixed at best.

A young woman in a burka, who asked not to be named, said that just being in the room with others that had been enduring the same process as she "made her feel less alone".

‘Carsten’, on the other hand, said he came to the workshop hoping to point out a specific administrative error in his case and was disappointed he wasn’t given the chance to bring it up.

"I do not see how lining up, shuffling from room to room to join different groups and writing on coloured bits of paper is helping me at all," he said.

Iftikhar Ahmed said "integration is just about respect" (Photo: Ray Weaver)Iftikhar Ahmed has been in Denmark for 14 years. His attendance at the workshop underscored that the labyrinth of immigration laws does not only affect those just arriving in Denmark, but that long time residents also must navigate the often murky waters.

Although his Danish was impeccable, Ahmed was one of the people obviously shocked by the “speak Danish” outburst at the start of the meeting.

"He doesn't want us here," he said, looking at the man who had done the shouting. Ahmed has just moved into a home outside of Copenhagen. He said he and his Danish neighbour often discuss integration.

"We have both reached the conclusion that integration is just about respect," he said. "I won't stand in your way, please don't stand in mine."

Somewhat ironically, the man who insisted that the meeting be conducted in Danish, turned out to be Torben Wilken, a major proponent for immigrant rights who works through several organisations to stop the government from engaging in practices that he said violate international law.

"EU laws provide that Danes that marry outside of the country have the right to bring their families back home," he said. "By making it so hard and restricting people’s rights, the government is simply breaking the law. People should know their rights."

Wilken has a website concerning family reunification rights at www.borgerret.org.

Stampe promised that the workshop would not be the last. She plans on setting up a Facebook page to keep participants updated on any changes in the law and to let participants know if their efforts are helping.

While the results of the effort, if any, remain to be seen, at the end of the evening Jepsen did tell the participants to reach over their own shoulder and give themselves a good, old-fashioned pat on the back for being there.