This Week’s Editorial: Refugees again and again

Ejvind Sandal takes another hard look at the refugee crisis

Denmark has been receiving a lot of international attention again since word spread that the Danish police would strip refugees of valuables – including wedding rings. This is an effort, argues the government, to help it bear the cost of receiving and integrating them.

Bangles for benefits
The law regarding the new immigration measures states that refugees are entitled to the means to sustain themselves, plus medical services and accommodation at refugee centres.

It also says that if a refugee has sufficient means, the authorities can decide that such support should be paid for by the refugee in question. Wealthy refugees can and should provide for themselves – in which case there would be no confiscation.

A big question was what constituted ‘sufficient means’. It’s now being defined as assets in excess of 10,000 kroner. And items of sentimental value – like wedding rings – are now exempt no matter what they’re valued at.

Same rule for everyone
Remember that many needy Danes were upset at the prospect of wealthy refugees claiming handouts. Their benefits (kontanthjælp), as well as other allowances such as the SU for students, can only be obtained if a claimant has exhausted their assets –including cash, cars and houses – and valuables.

Some Danes reacted strongly to the suggestion that refugees were being treated better than they were. They hated the possibility that they could run into rich refugees in the supermarket – especially after being stripped of private means (including assets belonging to their spouse) before being granted the kontanthjælp.

Reactions came in from all over the world recalling grim pictures from WWII of refugees being stripped before being gassed. It’s a bum rap for a refugee policy that apart from the present austerity measures has been one of the most generous in the world.

Children, for example, will receive free, compulsory primary education. And municipalities are now complaining about the task of integrating 5,000 to 8,000 children into the Danish school system. On top of that, 2,000 to 3,000 kids are waiting to go to kindergarten.

Let them contribute!
Surprisingly enough, nobody seems to consider letting the adults among the refugees contribute. This has become a specific Danish employment policy. The Danish unions are content as long as the refugees are sitting on the side as extras doing nothing. They are by law prohibited from working without a work permit – even voluntary work is out of bounds.

Getting the refugees jobs will be the big challenge in the springtime. The challenge will demand a lot of creativity from the ongoing negotiations. The government, unions and employers have to come up with solutions which will allow refugees to step outside the camps and get involved.

A lot of red tape has to be cut. Minimum wages, special hours, teaching and coaching have to be addressed. It’s certainly a huge task, but the Danes can do it in a dignified way when they stop feeling sorry for themselves.

As Chancellor Merkel would say: Think of it as an option.