• Friday, Nov 22, 2019
  • Last Update : 03:42 pm

Danish Muslims feel backlash as immigration becomes election issue

  • Published at 03:30 pm June 1st, 2019
Safi Firoza, 66 from Afghanistan, whose son, daughter in-law and grandchildren were granted asylum, sits in her room at Kaershovedgaard, a former prison and now a departure centre for rejected asylum seekers in Jutland, Denmark, March 27, 2019 Reuters

Around 43% of refugees who have lived in Denmark for more than 3 years were employed by the end of 2018, but while employment has risen, assimilation of immigrants has not always kept pace

Growing numbers of Danish Muslims say they have faced verbal abuse, exclusion and hate crimes since mainstream political parties began adopting anti-immigrant policies previously the preserve of the far right.

The ruling centre-right Liberal Party and the opposition Social Democrats both say a tough stance in immigration is needed to protect Denmark's cherished welfare system and to integrate the migrants and refugees already in the country.

But Manilla Ghafuri, 26, who came to Denmark from Afghanistan in 2001 as a refugee, fears that anti-Muslim attitudes could harden further as the immigration debate heats up ahead of a general election on June 5.

The number of immigrants from non-Western countries and their descendants who have experienced discrimination because of their ethnic background rose to 48% last year from 43% two years earlier, according to the National Integration Barometer.

"If people are ready and willing to be part of Danish society and want to contribute to it, then we invite them to become part of one of the best-functioning societies in the world," said Mads Fuglede, the Liberal Party's immigration spokesman.

"But we need to be able to discuss openly if there are problems with groups of people," he said, citing the large number of immigrant women from the Middle East who have not found work in Denmark.

He did not see any connection between racist incidents and the tone of the immigration debate.

Tarek Ziad Hussein, 26, a Danish-born Muslim of Palestinian origin, has written a book about being Muslim in Denmark. He told Reuters he has received death threats.

The number of racially or religiously motivated hate crimes registered by Danish police jumped to 365 in 2017 from 228 the year before. That could be higher as not all cases are reported.

Denmark's 320,000 Muslims are about 5.5% of the population, a slightly higher proportion than in the rest of Europe, according to Danish and US estimates.


The immigration minister, Inger Stojberg, has meanwhile been criticised for celebrating her 50th piece of legislation tightening immigration laws with a big cake. 

Earlier this year, the government passed a law that would mean more refugees could be repatriated, the latest move to discourage non-western immigration.

The law was passed with support from the anti-immigration Danish People's Party and the Social Democrats.

It means residence permits for refugees will be temporary, there will be a limit on the number of family reunifications, and a cut in benefits for immigrants.

The law has been criticised by the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the United Nations refugee agency. 

Around 43% of refugees who have lived in Denmark for more than 3 years were employed by the end of 2018, but while employment has risen, assimilation of immigrants has not always kept pace. 

History books

The Social Democrats declined to comment for this article because of a tight pre-election schedule, but they have repeatedly said they want to limit the number refugees.

"You are not a bad person, just because you are worried about immigration," party leader Mette Frederiksen said earlier this month.

With the mainstream parties toughening up on immigration, Denmark's biggest populist group, The Danish People's Party (DF) has lost some of its appeal and opinion polls show it is likely to shed almost half of its voters in the election.