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Europe

Denmark Turns Chilly on Immigration

Traditionally one of the most accommodating places when it comes to refugees, Denmark has pulled the welcome mat out from underneath the feet of those wishing to enter and live in the country.

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One less option for asylum seekers as Denmark gets tough.

A new tough stance on immigration, passed as legislation by the Danish government on May 31, is designed to severely restrict access to Denmark for asylum-seekers and refugees.

Parliamentary support from the anti-immigration, populist Danish People's Party ensured the passage of the law, which will take effect from July 1. Danish lawmakers voted 59-48 in favour of the law after a three-hour debate. Seventy parliamentarians were absent and two abstained.

Automatic entry denied; benefits cut

The legislation will deny automatic entry to foreign-born spouses of Danes and compromise the legal rights of immigrants who wish to bring in their immediate families

For refugees who do get in, conditions are likely to get much tougher once in Denmark. Welfare payments will be cut by 35 percent to 50 percent, depending on the size of the family. A married couple with two children now qualifies for payments of about euro 2,360 ($2,200) per month.

Illegale Immigranten warten in einer Schlange

Immigrants wait in line to apply for visas.

Refugees will get permanent residence permits after seven years, instead of the present three, and will have to wait until then to get these down-sized benefits.

They will be returned to their native countries if the political situation there stabilises and any refugee who goes home on holiday will have his or her case re-evaluated.

Under the proposal, refugees will only be considered as such as per the definition in the Geneva Convention, meaning those who have been, or fear being, persecuted for their race, religion or political beliefs.

60 per cent of Danes support restrictions

The legislation was first presented early this year by the Liberal-Conservative minority government. The centre-right coalition took office in November on promises to protect the prosperous nation's 'cradle-to-grave' welfare system from being exploited by outsiders.

The government is seen by many to be standing firm on these election pledges. As a result, Danes have shown support for the restrictions, with more than 60 per cent in favour.

Anders Rasmussen

"Let common sense prevail-Yes", Denmark's PM gets his way.

"With the (law proposal) we have carried out the tightening that obviously has become necessary," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

Immigration Minister Bertel Haarder added, "Foreigners represent a net burden on society. They cost more than they give back."

Effects of debate already show reduction in refugees

The looming stringent legislation has already begun to show signs of deterring asylum-seekers. The publicity surrounding the debate on immigrants - which was a main feature of the government's campaign - is thought to have prompted an already significant decline in the number of asylum-seekers.

The numbers of refugees entering the country dropped from 3,033 in the first three months of 2001 to 1,877 in the same period this year.

Immigrants account for 5 percent of the Scandinavian nation's 5.3 million population.

Despite the tightening of the immigration laws, the Danish government indicated that doctors and other professionals needed to plug gaps in Denmark's health sector would be exempt from the new restrictions.

Vier Rentnerinnen

The 'grey factor' is a problem for the Danish population.

The country is facing a demographic time bomb as its work force shrinks, the number of pensioners rises and its generous social security system struggles to cope.

In recent times, government agencies have appealed to educated foreign workers to move to Denmark to help shore up its work force.

UN, European neighbours in fierce opposition

The decision to clamp down on asylum seekers claiming benefits has been strongly criticised by the United Nations and other European countries who say the legislation - which has been under discussion since the centre-right government swept to power - is racist.

European critics hope to pressure Denmark, which takes over the revolving presidency of the European Union in a month, into diluting the legislation.

Neighbouring Sweden expressed concern that the restrictive policies now being put in place by the Danes could over stretch their own capacity for immigration with refugees flocking to their borders in search of alternatives.

Danish voices opposed to the legislation include human rights organisations and left wing political parties.

Bashy Quraishy, one of 20,000 Pakistanis in Denmark and the president of the European Network Against Racism, said, "The bottom line is that Danes want to keep ethnic minorities out of Denmark."

Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen of the small, centre Radical Party said, "The government's immigration package will hit the weakest people inside and outside the country." She said the vote would be "an embarrassing day in history for Denmark."

Denmark joins list of 'race card' players

Disquiet amongst moderate thinkers has now turned to extreme concern. Following a number of election campaigns across Europe that featured heavy anti-immigration rhetoric, further pandering to common anxieties that lead to gains by right wing parties is seen as a major danger.

During the Danish elections, the 'race card' was played by a number of groups who successfully appealed to voters' fears about the September 11 attacks, rising crime and the failure of many immigrants to integrate into society.

One poster contrasted a group of blond Danish girls, above the caption "Denmark today," with a group of hooded, blood-stained youths who were carrying weapons and appeared to be Muslims, captioned "10 years from now."

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