Thursday, March 29, 2007

Danish immigration debate from the other side

In each city, the German Marshall Foundation provides us with a city coordinator who plans our schedule and group meetings, sets up personal appointments with people in our areas of interest, helps us get to and from each appointment and generally serves as our cultural guide and point of contact. In Copenhagen, our coordinator Kristina did a great job of connecting us with interesting people, taking or pointing us to notable local sites, and generally making our visit productive, informative and useful.

Our last two days, she set up meetings for us on the topics of immigration and freedom of speech. The same day as the embassy protest, we met with Danish Red Cross officials and representatives of several other organizations working with immigrants and refugees to improve integration through access to services such as job training and community involvement. Interestingly, the overall numbers of people immigrating to Denmark hasn’t changed much in the past 10 years, but where they’re coming from has.
  • 1995 – 37,879 - mostly refugees and asylum seekers
  • 2005 – 40,392 – mostly EU transplants and people coming for employment from Eastern Europe.

These are a couple of the speakers, who both came to Denmark in the last 25 years. They provided wonderful insight on the issue from an insider's point of view.

Currently, the largest group of immigrants comes from Turkey (18%). The next largest group influx to Denmark came from Iraq (8%) and Lebanon (7%). Despite this growth, the country still has just 3.7% unemployment.

There were lots of factoids flying during this discussion, but the main takeaways for me were that many Danes and government officials feel they’re already doing a lot to integrate newcomers and that the immigrants are somewhat “ungrateful.”

But the newcomers feel that for those who are really trying to integrate and become full-fledge residents/citizens, Danes still hold them at arms-length and lump all immigrants together, whether they’re productive contributing residents or not. As an outsider, it’s clear both sides are talking past each other on many levels and simply have different views of the same situation. Clearly the U.S. is not alone in trying to find a better solution to the complex issues surrounding immigration.

For these last Copenhagen meetings, we especially appreciated the speakers' time since they met with us for a few hours on a Saturday. Also, it was much more edifying than our discussions on the same topic in Paris because we heard directly from people who had come to the country from elsewhere. This would be taken a step further (and to even greater effect) in Lisbon.

On a completely unrelated note, after several sunny but nearly warm days, we got a taste of Denmark's true weather on this last day: cold temperatures, some snow/rain mix, and winds so strong they blew one of my gloves away as I rushed to capture the embassy protestors. Although it seems counterintuitive, it turns out that one glove is not almost as warm as two. One is like having none, a problem I would need to rectify in Lisbon, Portugal.

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