Lampedusa to Frederiksværk: Refugees welcome!

Zach Khadudu is a Kenyan by birth and a journalist by choice. He is a commentator and an activist with a passion for refugee and human rights. He may share a heritage with a certain US president, but his heart lies elsewhere – in the written and spoken word.

While he’ll offer board and lodging, the authorities/traffickers will throw them overboard

On September 6, some 500 asylum-seekers died when traffickers deliberately sank their boat in the Mediterranean near Malta. The asylum-seekers, mostly African and Middle Eastern, had set sail from Dalmietta in Egypt en route to Europe. 

Monstrosities on the Med
Those who tried to cling on had their hands chopped off. It was a disaster of epic proportions. International news media turned away. There was no 24-hour live coverage as was the case when Air Malaysia was shot down in Ukraine. Or when flight 370 went missing. After all, these were just asylum-seekers and not some high-level businessmen or researchers. They were inconsequential.  

It’s not the first time. Each year, thousands perish at sea trying to reach Europe. The sea is turbulent, and the boats jam-packed. The ‘liabilities’ – pregnant women, the sick and the old – are the first to be thrown overboard. It is survival of the strongest. 

Firm land in Lampedusa
Approaching European shores, Italian coastguards often intercept them and turn them away to die. Those who successfully slip under the coastguard’s radar arrive in Italy through the island of Lampedusa.

While the Italian authorities try to block the arrival of more asylum-seekers, the inhabitants of Lampedusa welcome their dejected, dehydrated ‘guests’ with open arms. The island’s fishermen often answer to distress calls from sinking boats. To the credit of Lampedusans, thousands of lives have been saved.

Once in Italy, survivors penetrate deep into other parts of Europe. Those who make it to Denmark end up in one of about a dozen asylum centres. 

Humanity in Halsnæs
The authorities are not always as welcoming, neither in Italy nor in Denmark. For instance, when Halsnæs Council decided to close Centre Auderød and deny hundreds of asylum-seekers residence, the citizens decided to act to help the refugees. 

Just like on Lampedusa, the good people of Halsnæs mobilised to intervene. Under the banner “Gæstfrie i Halsnæs”, they called upon each other to open their homes and offer their extra rooms to the embattled refugees. 

The people of Halsnæs did not stop there. They appealed to the city mayor, wrote protest letters to the Justice Ministry and informed several human rights organisations including Amnesty International. And when push came to shove, they took to the streets of Frederiksværk to show their public solidarity with the asylum-seekers. 

Apathy at the authorities
From Italy´s Lampedusa to Denmark´s Halsnæs, one lesson is clear: regardless of what the political class thinks, there is a beacon of hope in the common man. 

So what is the moral of this story? There is a fundamental attitude difference between the Danish authorities and the people of Halsnæs. Just like there is a huge difference between the attitude of the Italian authorities and the people of Lampedusa towards refugees. 

While Halsnæsneans and Lampedusans see asylum-seekers as fellow humans to empathise with, the authorities see asylum-seekers largely as burdens to get rid of by Draconian laws. 

If only we could heed to the words of former Danish politician, Professor Isi Foighel.

“If we have laws, no matter how good, or well you may think of them, if [those laws] collide with humanity, it’s not humanity we should change, but the laws,” he once said.

Perhaps it’s time we could change the laws that jeopardise the humanity of refugees.