Good News for Asylum Seekers! Just Maybe...
The new government led by Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schimdt made a lot of promises to foreigners during the campaign period. About two months after the election (15th Sept 2011), immigrants in general and asylum seekers in particular are still waiting to see any meaningful changes in their situations. Journalist Zach K. speaks to Member of Parliament Zenia Stampe, who is also the spokesperson on Immigration and security for the party “Radikale Venstre”, which is proposing better conditions for foreigners in Denmark.
ZK: Thank you for granting us this interview. There was a lot of hope from foreigners and asylum seekers after the new government came to power. Is this hope from foreigners going to be realised?
Zenia: Yes, I am pretty sure a lot of people are very impatient, because we have already said somethings in this agreement, but it takes time to implement it. I know a lot of people have very high expectations and I think they should have, because there are a lot of things we want to change as soon as possible, because I know it has consequences for people.
ZK: One of the campaign promises of Prime Minister Helle was to allow asylum seekers to work after being in the system for six months, what is your comment on that?
Zenia: We are working on it and I hope that it will be realised very soon. We are just negotiating the budget for next year and actually we have money for that part of the government’s promise, because refugees should be be able to work and also to get education and live outside the centres. It costs some money, but we are working on that and also on the laws that should be changed to realise it.
ZK: Talking of the budget, the proposed 2012 budget gives 200 Million Kroner for asylum seekers. If this proposal goes through, will all asylum seekers be allowed to live outside the centres and work, or just a given group, maybe those in phase one, two or three?
Zenia: It is for people who cooperate, that means that people who did not get asylum and we have an agreement with the country they come from to send them back. Well, we havent really negotiated the details in this part of the agreement so we don’t know how many will be able to live outside the centres yet.
ZK: So what timelines are we looking at, when will you have negotiated and possibly resolved on this issues to start operating?
Zenia: I hope that this spring we will be able to say more.
ZK: There was a suggestion that asylum seekers who cannot be send back should be granted short-term resident permit, how far is that proposal?
Zenia: Today, we have the possibility of giving people allowance to live in Denmark for a period if we cant send them back, but we don’t really use that possibility. So what I said is that we should try to find out why we don’t use this law, because there are people we know we wont be able to send back in one month or two, so why don’t we actually give them this possibility? Because the law are very okay in that area, i’m very curious why we don't use that possibility.
ZK: Is that a failure of the government, at least the last government, not using that possibility?
Zenia: I think so, but I cannot promise anything, because now we will look at how the rules are getting implemented and whether there are some things we need to change. It’s a pity that they should go everyday, afraid that we are going to send them back when we know we cannot.
ZK: On the possibility of allowing asylum seekers to work, there are asylum seekers who are highly qualified like doctors and lawyers, but we also know that some professions are highly regulated in Denmark, if indeed asylum seekers are allowed to work, will it be them working in their areas of expertise or just doing manual jobs like cleaning?
Zenia: We have not discussed that yet, but I know it’s very difficulty for doctors to work, because they should for example speak Danish very well, maybe we should look at that, but i don’t know the rules in that areas, it should be another ministry looking at that.
ZK: There are children and adults with serious sicknesses like eye problems or dental problem in the camps, and they cannot go to hospital, because they do not have insurance and the Red-Cross cannot manage all the sicknesses that people suffer from, both physical and mental problems, is your party and the government aware of this problem and what are they doing about it?
Zenia: We have discussions about illegal immigrants that they should be able to get medical help and that is our opinion about every human being in Denmark, that every human being should be able to get help,that is just a core principle. I think we should look at that, and we have been very occupied with mental illnesses of refugees and we don't think they get enough help. But I would like to know more about it and see how we can help.
ZK: Talking of the hospital of the underground refugees, some people are sceptical and asking how secure are they, knowing that being underground the police could pick them up.
Zenia: The thing is, if they are really ill, they should go to the hospital. Not like Danes who go to hospital just to have a doctor’s opinion, because they have a strange mark or some itch, but the thing is if you are really ill then you should go to hospital.
ZK: On the issue of citizenship, children who are born in this country do not automatically get citizenship status as is in many other countries, is that about to change?
Zenia: That is about to change, what we wrote in the agreement we have is that if you were born in Denmark when you finished the elementary school then you will have the right to have Danish citizenship, but if you don’t want it at that time then you will get the offer again when you are 18, and you should finish school and finish it with grade two, so you have to have very good grades, but you should at least have passed.
ZK: Another issue is family re-unification. It has been very difficulty for foreigners and even Danes to get married to foreigners, is that going to be changed as well?
Zenia: That is going to change as well. The 100,000DKK required is going to be reduced to 50,000DKK, and before you had to pay an amount just to apply for reunification, that will not be there anymore. The point system is going to be removed. Then the citizenship test is going to be removed and the Danish test is going to be a bit easier, and you will not need to have and education from your home country, you can get an education in Denmark. So it is going to get better.
ZK: But how soon are these changes going to be realised?
Zenia: The things that I just mentioned now, we are just negotiating now and I think it will be changed in a few months. i think we are going to see the laws before Christmas and I think the parliament will finish negotiating in the spring.
ZK: The Refugees Appeals Board (Flygtningenævnet - ed.) was composed of seven members, which the last government reduced to three members, and some people feel this is worse than with the seven members, are you hoping to propose any changes?
Zenia: We are proposing changes, so we will make the board bigger again. So we will have a member from the Danish Refugees Council, who will have a right to appoint someone, typically a lawyer. We will also have one member from the Foreign Ministry and that is to gain some insight in relation to asylum laws from the countries the asylum seekers come from. We think that this kind of knowledge has been missing in the board.
ZK: Refugees have for so long not been allowed to study Danish and that has already been giving them a bad impression that they are not welcome, how is that about to change?
Zenia: We are off course going to change that. I think it is good for us and for them, because we do not know how long they are going to be here then we should hurry up and teach them some Danish so that the time they are here they can be part of society, not just isolated in the centres. That is also important for the Danes, that we can get to know these people and talk to them. I think it is a pity that the asylum seekers have little contact with the Danes. One of the reasons they have not had a voice in the Danish society, is because the old government and the Danish People’s Party were against them learning Danish. I think we are now building a bridge and making a place for them in society.
ZK: Will that also include refugees going to school and colleges to learn some trade, or profession?
Zenia: We have not negotiated the rules yet, but what we have decided is they should be able to work, study and live outside the centres. We have not discussed what kind of education, but i think they should be able to study any professions. My opinion is we should not build separate schools for them, but rather let them attend the usual schools, some courses are taught in English.
ZK: Denmark has also been closing its borders and isvery strict on who comes in. Is that about to change too?
Zenia: It is going to change, because we are not going to have border control at all and most of our neighbours are happy about that.
ZK: Are all these changes going to be accomplished in one term or do you think the Social Democrats will need another term to implement all of the proposed changes?
Zenia: I think the agreement made by the government will be implemented in one term, in fact I think most of the things will be implemented within one year.Some things may take a bit longer, but most of the things should be implemented in just one year.
ZK: What is the hope you can give to refugees and asylum seekers, a parting shot?
Zenia: That we actually care about them and if they doubt about that, then they should write or call me and I will answer them and I will always talk with them and hear about their problems. Because we actually care about them. We know they are human beings, because the problem has been that refugees has just been numbers in the last ten years.
Asylum and the law
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