Touted as a model country, Denmark has the toughest family reunification laws in the world, laws that victimise immigrants and natives alike. Chenette, a Danish mother, narrates her ordeal.
Most European countries are experiencing a political tsunami in which almost all elections, including the one just concluded in Italy, are about restricting the number of immigrants and refugees, and preventing them from getting access to citizenship and universal human rights.
Very few countries, however, have made rules so tough that their citizens cannot return to their own country.
Denmark is one such country. It has the toughest rules for family reunification in the entire Western world. Seldom does a week go by without stories in the Danish media about how an Asian mother’s stay permit has been cancelled, even though she is married to a Danish man, and the children are theirs. The rules for stay permits are numerous and confusing.The right to stay may be cancelled even for minor infractions. If you over-stay even inadvertently, owing to confusion over the rules, you can be barred from applying for a residence permit for several years.
Imagine letting underage children stay, while asking their mother to leave the country! The harsh rules affect not just immigrants, but native Danes as well. In order to keep immigrants out of Denmark, while at the same time avoiding criticism from human rights organisations, the residence rules have been tightened for all, including Danes who have lived abroad. So when Danish citizens return after having lived for a while in foreign countries, they, their spouses and their children are no longer given the same rights as Danes who never left the country. This constrains the family’s ability to resettle in Denmark and maintain contact with grandparents and other relatives here.
While Denmark has been basking in the sunlight of positive media coverage after both Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton kept referring to it as a model country because of its universal health care system in the 2016 US Presidential elections, these are the untold stories of how the Danish state violates basic human rights.
It is true that Denmark provides free health care and education. There is also a high degree of social mobility and social cohesion. But the dominant discourse for the last two decades in Denmark has been that immigration would destroy this social cohesion, and therefore tighter and tighter immigration rules have been imposed. The last three elections here have been decided on the issue of tougher immigration laws, and the next election is heading the same way.
What are the consequences?
Now, even Danes who have lived abroad cannot come back with their foreign spouses. A sizeable number of Danes have moved to USA and had children with American citizens. One such mother contacted me to tell her story after my last piece in this column on the ill-treatment of a Japanese mother in the Danish child protection system.
Chenette is a Danish mother, who now lives in Arizona, USA. She has sent me several videos of her son and their life there. The videos show the child as he plays happily, runs eagerly up to Chenette when he gets off the school bus and otherwise leads the normal life of a child anywhere. It is touching to see the boy run towards his mother.
Chenette is happy to be with her son in USA, especially after her traumatic experience in Denmark three years ago. Chenette is as Danish as you can ever be. Both her parents are Danish, she hails from a provincial town called Randers and has a typical Danish surname. Because he is born to a Danish mother in USA, legally herson is both an American and a Danish citizen.
Chenette and her son, then 3-years-old, returned to Randers from the USA in December 2014. The little boy had some difficulty adjusting to the severe winter and the new culture and language. Overwhelmed by all the changes he fell somewhat unwell and Chenette took him to the hospital for a check-up.
The Danish doctor in attendance all of sudden announced that her son could not be treated as he was not a Danish citizen. Chenette told the doctor that her son was in fact a Danish citizen,as she, his mother,was one.
Immediately the hospital contacted the Child Protection Services (CPS) of Randers Municipality, and this is what is written, among other notes, in a journal documented by the social worker, or “socialrådgiver”, as they are called in Denmark. I have seen the documentation. “Hun bori Arizona, ogharværetiarbejdesomsådani ca. 3-4 år, såvidtdeterindres. Faderentil Michael erneger, oghunborikkesammen med ham.»Translated from Danish, this reads, “She lives in Arizona, and has worked for the last 3 to 4 years, as far as she can recollect. The father of Michael is a Negro, and she does not live with him.”
This derogatory, racist and abhorrent word is not just part of a verbal communication, but in an official document! It was this same social worker who wanted to remove the child from Chenette.
Chenette responded strongly and stood firm on her right to keep her son. The CPS authorities tried to intimidate her by saying she should cooperate to avoid worse consequences. But Chenette did not back down and insisted that the demand for removing her son be given in writing. Readers will note that the removal of a child in Denmark is, at least in practice, made without even a written order.The CPS were reluctant to give anything in writing. Chenette tells me that what really made a difference was when she said that she would contact the American authorities. She told the Danish CPS that since her son has American citizenship and his father is American, America would have a say in this case. Fortunately, this worked. The CPS did not remove the child just then and Chenette returned to USA with him on the first possible plane. She has not returned to Denmark since.
The Danish CPS authorities tried to pursue the case even after Chenette left, sending papers to the CPS authorities in the USA. Arizona CPS has recently been in the news for unjustifiably confiscating children from their parents, a rising trend in all Western countries. But Chenette was lucky. The US CPS authorities allowed her to keep her son—although not before subjecting her to an investigation.
Chenette would like to take her son to visit her family in Denmark, but after her horrible experience with the CPS authorities and looking at the discourse on immigrants in Denmark, she fears that her son may not get a fair chance there. She says Denmark has become racist and feels judged negatively for having had a child with a man of a different race.
Would she have received different treatment if she had hada white child with a white man? It is a hypothetical question but Chenette says she felt unwelcome in her own country because the father of her child was not Danish and not white. Chenette tells me that she is in contact with many Danes who have immigrated to the United States and Canada, and most of them do not feel welcome in Denmark anymore.
In the beginning of March this year, the Danish government has proposed a new law that would impose double punishment for the same crime if committed in certain areas. It is anybody’s guess which these 25 areas are. They are the so-called “ghetto areas”, where there is a concentration of immigrants. The new law uses terms like “ikke vestige”, which means immigrants with non-Western origin. If you are a resident of one of these areas, you will not be able to bring your spouse from abroad, and if your child commits a crime here, he or she will face double punishment, thus reducing all future chances of getting a job.
Under this new proposed law, called “ghettoudspil 2030”, it would be easy for the social authorities to impose financial sanctions on families whose children have poor school records, and it will also be easier for the CPS authorities to remove children from these families. 22 strong measures are on the table, unequivocally making Denmark the European country with the harshest measures on immigrant families. Some would characterise them as discriminatory measures, smartly formulated to avoid being challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.
The Indian Government should educate Indians in these proposed laws as the Danish ghetto areas are where many of the young Indian IT families come to stay as housing is not easily available in the cities
Mrutyuanjai Mishra writes regularly for Danish and Indian newspapers. At present he is based in Denmark and writes for the Danish newspaper BT
This article is published in collaboration with www.saveyourchildren.in, lawyer Suranya Aiyar’s website critiquing the role of governments and child rights NGOs in child laws and policy