Mon, Jun 15, 2015 - Page 6 News List

Denmark’s elections to focus on immigration policy

Reuters, TONDER, Denmark

Danish opposition leader Kristian Thuleson Dahl, left, of the Danish People’s Party arrives at a campaign event in Tonder, southern Denmark, on Tuesday last week.

Photo: Reuters

Recalling how a group of refugees once threatened his life if he did not retract a police statement, Frank Pedersen is angry about the increasing number of immigrants in Denmark.

They are, he said, running amok in Tonder, the small town on the border with Germany where he lives with his wife and small child and works at the local employment center.

“I see a problem with more and more coming. It’s an issue when nothing is being done in areas where they commit crimes. Tipping over social workers’ cars so they have to ride in pairs out of fear,” the 41-year-old navy veteran said.

Pedersen was one of about 200 people who gathered for a garden party held at a former border post with Germany by the right-wing Danish People’s Party (DF). The location was apt: The party wants to reintroduce border controls, scrapped after Denmark entered the passport-free Schengen zone.

Little over a week before a parliamentary election, in which the DF has a chance of entering a governing coalition, immigration has become a hot topic and the party’s rhetoric on curbing foreigners entering Denmark has been adopted by mainstream parties.

The leader of the main opposition Liberals said that, if elected, he would hold an emergency session of parliament during the summer to tighten controls and introduce measures, such as refusing permanent permits to unemployed immigrants.

“We can look at the figures and see that if we do not do something, we will get a massive influx after the summer,” Liberals leader Lars Lokke Rasmussen said.

“We can’t just sit around and wait until October, because we know the pressure is greatest in the summer months,” he said, referring to when parliament resumes after its summer recess.

Meanwhile, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, from the center-left Social Democrats, is trumpeting her record.

Earlier this year, the government announced measures that would make it harder for people to claim asylum, which would mean more refugees are granted only short-term permits and it would be harder for their families to join them in Denmark.

“Fewer must come than last year, because it is hard to keep up,” she said. “If peace emerges in the country the refugees come from, then people should go back home.”

She did not identify any such country.

Thorning-Schmidt’s center-left and Rasmussen’s center-right blocs are running neck and neck in opinion polls.

The number of asylum seekers doubled last year, as Syrians fled conflict at home, to more than 14,000 people. That compares with 664,000 asylum applications in the whole of Europe, ranking Denmark fifth in proportion to its population. Sweden next door received more than 80,000, by far the largest intake in Europe compared to its population.

Much of the debate as reported in the media is tinged with Islamophobia. For some, headscarves, calls to prayer and minarets are an affront to a homogenous Danish culture and associated with a small group of radical Muslim extremists.

The DF, whose members in the past have branded Islam a plague and called for mosques to be shut down, has been more nuanced during the campaign to widen its appeal.

“They are changing society. We are not in favor of having, for example, a mosque’s call for prayer,” DF leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl told reporters in an interview. “It’s not that they are Muslim, that is not the problem. It is that people coming to Denmark, living in Denmark, must respect the society.”

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