Will The New Government Allow Asylum Seekers To Work?
The Danes have spoken, democracy has been exercised. It is now official: Denmark will have a new government. After almost a decade under the leadership of the right, Denmark will have a centre left government; and for the first time in history a female prime Minister. The centre left emerged as victor in the closely contested election on September 15,2011 by 92 of the 179 seats. But what does this change mean for the immigrants and asylum seekers in Denmark?
The new prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and her Social Democratic party promised to roll back tough immigration laws introduced by the former government. In an interview with the newspaper Dagbladet Information (Sept 15, 2011), the now Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt is quoted as having stated "...first and foremost we want to give asylum seekers the opportunity to take a job. We believe that their participation in the 'white' labor can provide skills, whether they get asylum or return to their homeland.”
This statement elicited mixed reactions among asylum seekers. While most are optimistic, others think it was just a campaign gimmick.
Jill Hussein (pseudo name) is an asylum seeker in Denmark. He is a trained Computer Programmer from Iran and has been an asylum seeker in Denmark for a year now. Since he is not allowed to work, Jill has had to content himself with manual job attachments offered by the Red Cross referred to as Praktik. During this time he has worked as a cleaner in his asylum seekers centre Auderod besides attending language courses. Hussein feels his capacity is going to waste, “I am so demoralised, for a whole year I have never done anything I’m trained in, my whole training is going to waste. I don’t know if i will get asylum or not. Whichever way, I feel useless here”
Jill is not alone in this situation. Joseph Claude an asylum seeker from Congo is a trained electrician. He worked for over ten years in his native Congo before fleeing to Denmark after political upheavals in his country. “I came here ten months ago, left my five kids and my wife back home to flee for safety. Since then I have not had any paid job in Denmark as it is not allowed. I was the sole breadwinner of my family. My Children have had to drop out of school for lack of fees. Everytime my wife calls me she cries, its a burden for her”. He wipes his teary eyes as he laments his desperation. “Sometimes I wonder why me?Why can´t I be allowed to work to feed my family?Why should my children suffer?”, he asks.
Let Us Work...
In the current legislation asylum seekers are not allowed to hold a paid job in Denmark. This has left many asylum seekers at the mercy of humanitarian organisations like the Danish Red Cross to provide them with basic needs and modest subsistence allowances. The result has been a tough burden on the Red Cross and a feeling of helplessness and even despair among some asylum seekers.
But not all have taken it lying down. The refusal by the government for asylum seekers to work has led to some going around the system. Ben Hasa (pseudonym) says the burden on him was too much. He had to find a way out in order to support himself and his family back in Tunisia. Ben got himself a “black” job in Copenhagen,with a “gentleman's agreement” between him and his Danish employer Jensen. “It’s absolutely unfair that these people should not be allowed to work” Jensen says. “If they are are willing and able why not, I have employed several of them.” Jensen argues that it is a double tragedy, because the government has to provide for them and get nothing in return.
Jesper says he is happy with Ben's work. “He is such a gifted hand in my grocery stores. He does any kind of job he is asked; cleaning, packaging and loading goods for distribution.” Asked whether he pays tax, Ben is quick to interject “I would be very willing to do so, if I was working legally.”
As the new government officially starts its term. All eyes are set on its performance to see if it will keep the promises. The asylum seekers are crossing their fingers in hopeful anticipation.