A tale of love, war … and immigration

After fleeing civil unrest in Africa, a Danish-Brazilian couple had hoped they’d be welcomed back to Demark. Their experiences have left them feeling anything but

Henrique Guerra Larsen and his husband Dennis live in uncertainty. Ever since an uprising last December in the Central African Republic, where Dennis Larsen worked for UNICEF, forced the couple and their adopted son Aldino to flee, they’ve been facing an immigration nightmare that they fear will end up with them not being able to live in Denmark together.

Henrique Larsen, a Brazilian national who is a former Danish resident who has worked at a Danish embassy, said the family’s troubles began when the fighting started.

“Our lives were in danger and we were therefore evacuated after the riots broke out,” he said.

Upon returning to Denmark he had to reapply for family reunification, which turned out to be harder than expected. The couple had hoped that being the spouse of a UN employee, and now in Denmark unexpectedly because of the unrest in the country where they were stationed, would put Henrique Larsen on a fast track in the application process.

Dennis Larsen was disappointed to find out that wasn’t the case. “The Danish authorities have not efficiently supported us – an international civil servant and his family – after we have risked our lives in an evacuation when serving in a difficult country,” he said.  

“Considering that I am Danish and that I have served for UNICEF abroad, which should be in the interest of Denmark; considering that we have been exposed to a life-threatening experience; considering that Henrique has already lived in Denmark for years and has already contributed to Danish society with working in the country as well as for a Danish embassy abroad, considering that our son has nowhere else to go – then it seems inhumane for the Danish authorities to take more than six months to process visas for Henrique and Aldino, leaving us in a situation of uncertainty.”

Henrique Larsen applied for his residency on January 3 and was told later that month that the immigration authorities, Udlændingestyrelsen, had begun looking at the application, but the processing could take up to four months. 

In April, when Henrique Larsen was hoping to get an answer from Udlændingestyrelsen, they requested a copy of his passport. The request all but sent the family back to square one, since it meant Udlændingestyrelsen had an additional four months to process his case. 

“I was speechless. If they really were processing my case back in January, why didn’t they ask for the required documentation at that time?” Henrique Larsen asked.

Aldino and his adoptive parents currently live with Dennis Larsen's mother, Marianna Larsen, in Denmark (Private photo)

In May, he was in contact with Udlændingestyrelsen again and was told that he would receive an answer about his visa the following week. As of late June, they still haven’t heard anything.

Complicating the couple’s immigration issues are the circumstances surrounding the adoption of their son, Aldino. The couple were in Mozambique in 2008 in connection with Dennis Larsen’s work when they became the legal guardians of Aldino. Aldino, then four, is the grandson of their maid at the time. The boy’s mother had left for South Africa, leaving the child behind. 

Henrique Larsen was employed by the Danish embassy while living in Mozambique, and in 2012, the Larsens officially adopted Aldino under Mozambican law. The Danish authorities, however, “do not accept the procedure of private adoption and so consider the Mozambican legality as invalid in Denmark”, Larsen explained. 

The couple have been warned that it could take as long as two years to process the application. In the meantime, Aldino, now nine, is permitted to remain in Denmark, but that presents problems of its own. 

“Our son is still Mozambican, but he has no Danish identity. He has lived with us for five years and barely remembers his life in Mozambique. He has nothing to return to, and he can’t live a normal Danish life either because he has no visa or CPR number,” Henrique Larsen said, adding that the boy goes to a private school, but the administration’s requests for his CPR number are a source of irritation.

Furthermore, Henrique Larsen finds that the authorities themselves appear to be unsure about the rules.

“I regularly go there [to Udlændingestyrelsen] to follow up on the applications, but it seems that whenever I speak with someone new, they give me different advice. One day I may be asked to fill out a specific form, and the next day I am told that was the wrong form and that I need to fill out another one,” Henrique Larsen said. “I feel like a ping-pong ball being bounced back and forth through the system.”

While waiting, he too is allowed to stay in Denmark. He’s fortunate enough to have his CPR number from a previous residence, but he’s not allowed to work. 

Work though, is far from Henrique Larsen’s biggest concern. As one of his son’s adoptive parents, he fears that if his application for residency is rejected, Aldino’s will be too. 

“He has nothing to go back to. We are his parents and we love him,” Henrique Larsen said. “I have nothing to go back to either. I have not lived in Brazil since 1998, so I have no life there. My life is with my husband and my son here in Denmark.”

Udlændingestyrelsen said that it is up to the applicant to find out what’s best for them. It continued that it is not there to advise but guide people, and there are many different options and ways to be granted permanent residency – it is up to the applicant to find out which way they prefer. They have not yet commented on the specific cases of Aldino and Henrique Larsen.