Thursday, January 14, 2010

Every city has a ghetto

On my first day in Århus, I learned about the ghetto. "The ghetto where all the immigrants live"was the way it was described to me. This suburb of Århus is called Brabrand, to the west of the city. Students expressed their misfortune for having been placed in a dorm in this neighborhood. Some of the problem is simply its geographical distance. It's a bus ride into the city. But much of the problem is that it's "the ghetto where all the immigrants live". It was the only way I heard immigrants being described in Denmark.

There seems to me two contrasting pictures of Denmark. In one, it's a lovely country. It's people are very happy. Even if this is a myth (or the survey methodology imperfect), its is a widely believed one. The social services are really good. People bike a lot.Women participate in the workforce almost equally with men.

But a lot of people, well immigrants, aren't very happy. Denmark finds it very difficult to accept its changing demographics. Immigration and racism are sensitive topics here as it is anywhere else.

I haven't gotten a hang of how these topics are discussed in Danish society because I haven't found very good Danish news sources in English. But a few weeks back the attack on Kurt Westergaard by a Somali man brought this issues up in the States too. Time Magazine has this to say about Somali immigrants to Denmark:
Somali refugees are also among the least integrated minority groups in Denmark, a fact that experts blame on a lack of education and the strident tone of right-wing politicians. According to the Integration Ministry, only 34% of Somali men and 22% of Somali women are employed — a rate far below the average for immigrants in the country. "There are different reasons for this, but one is that there has been civil war in Somalia since 1991, and this has created a situation in which many have a poor education from their homeland," says Nauja Kleist, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute of International Studies. "But another aspect is the feeling of not being accepted by the rest of Danish society. The harsh tone of the political debate in Denmark has had the consequence that many feel they are not being recognized as equal citizens."
I heard that Denmark has very harsh immigration laws but I didn't know any specific examples until now:
Artan echoes that sentiment, saying that some Somalis feel as if they're being pushed out by the Danish People's Party, which has succeeded in passing several harsh immigration laws in recent years with the help of allies in Parliament. Last fall, a proposal was passed to pay "antisocial" foreigners 100,000 kroner ($19,000) to leave Denmark and give up their residency rights.
From the UNHCR:
Denmark introduced one of Europe's strictest immigration laws in 2002. The measure restricts citizens' ability to bring foreign spouses into the country, requiring both partners to be aged 24 or older. The law also requires the Dane to pass a solvency test, prove that he or she has not drawn social security for at least a year, and posta bond of almost $10,000. A reunified family's husband and wife must both prove "close ties to Denmark."
By no means do I have even a cursory understanding of the situation, but as you all know, immigration and ethnic relations are topics close to my intellectual and experiential soul. 

Food I'm craving today: hummus and pita. But I know there's bazaar in Brabrand where a lot of immigrants have stores and I intend to go very soon.


Angel said...

Those laws do seem really harsh. I don't know about you, but it's weird for me being here in Spain and not seeing as much Asians as I'm used to in Ann Arbor. I've heard that there's quite a bit of Asians here, but I haven't seen much besides the occasional tourists. I'm also the only Asian in my program, you?

Adrianne said...

Thank you for continuing to write such a well-informed, informative, and interesting blog. You rock.

Taz said...

The fact the immigrants are unemployed probably doesn't beg favor with the Danes either - however, what are the immigrants to do. Refugee situations are sticky subjects at best... hopefully the brains of the world will help come up with some feasible solutions to some of these problems. Obviously immigration is a huge problem here in the U.S., and issues like sexism, rascism, religion, crime, xenophobia, refugee crises, etc. complicate the issue.