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Denmark opens Flugt refugee museum

June 25, 2022

The Flugt museum, in the town of Oksboel, will recognize the contribution refugees have made to the Nordic country. A quarter of a million Germans fled the Red Army to Denmark in the dying days of World War II.

A wall shows photographs of the German refugee camp in the Danish town of Oksboel
The museum has been built at the site of the Oksboel refugee camp, which held tens of thousands of Germans at the end of World War IIImage: John Randeris/Ritzau Scanpix/AP/dpa/picture alliance

Danish Queen Margrethe II and German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck on Saturday inaugurated a new museum dedicated to refugees who have made the Nordic country home.

Flugt — Refugee Museum of Denmark — was created at the site of a former refugee camp in Oksboel, a town near Denmark's west coast and just 95 kilometers (60 miles) from the border with Germany.

Museum director Claus Kjeld Jensen said the museum intends to tell the story of the largest flow of refugees Denmark has ever seen, referring to the 250,000 Germans who fled to the country at the end of World War II.

Tens of thousands of German refugees were interred in the Oksboel camp.

The museum said it is also committed to highlighting the plight of present-day refugees, including those from Vietnam, Chile, Bosnia, Syria, Afghanistan and most recently Ukraine.

Large video screens have been erected at the museum where visitors can hear the refugees' stories in their own words.

"Being a refugee is not something one decides. It is not one's personal choice, it is something that happens,'' Sawsan Gharib Dall, a stateless Palestinian who was born in a refugee camp in Lebanon and lived there until she fled and arrived in Denmark in 1985, says in one video.

Opening to the public on June 29, the museum has been financed by private donations, the federal German government and the state government of Germany's northernmost state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Danish Queen Margrathe and the German vice Chancellor Robert Habeck attend the inauguration of the new museum FLUGT (flight) in Oksboel, Denmark, on Saturday 25 June 2022
Danish Queen Margrathe II and German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck attended the opening of the museumImage: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix/picture alliance

What was the Oksboel refugee camp?

Some 250,000 Germans fled the Soviet Red Army to German-occupied Denmark in the last months of World War II.

Oksboel was the largest of several facilities set up to house the refugees and around 37,000 were placed there from 1945 to 1949.

The camp was guarded by armed soldiers and barbed wire fences and nutrition and medical care were poor.

But it had its own mayor, town council, court and police department. The refugees also set up a number of churches, hospitals, schools and even a cinema.

Most of the new arrivals in Denmark were women, children and the elderly and at one point, they made up 5% of the total population.

However, a 2005 Der Spiegel article reveals how thousands of German refugee children died due to malnutrition and a lack of medicine for curable diseases.

At the time, Germany's reputation was so tarnished that Danish doctors refused to treat them unless their illness posed a risk to the wider population.

German refugees at the Oksboel refugee camp in Denmark in 1945
Around 37,000 Germans were housed at the Oksboel refugee camp in the post-war yearsImage: dpa/picture alliance

Danes under criticism for immigration limits

More than 650,000 of Denmark's 5.8 million population are immigrants and 208,000 are listed in the state statistics as descendants of immigrants.

However, the museum opens at a time when Denmark has placed more limits on migration, a move that has attracted international criticism.

Just 2,717 people have sought asylum in Denmark this year, according to government statistics.

Denmark only took in a small part of the more than 1 million people who arrived from Africa and the Middle East during the 2015 migration crisis.

More than 11,500 people applied for asylum in Denmark, while 1.1 million did so in Germany and 163,000 in Sweden in 2015.

In 2016, a law was passed allowing authorities to seize jewelry and other assets from refugees to help finance their housing and other services.

In practice, it has been implemented only a handful of times.

Denmark has revoked the residency permits of some Syrian refugees by declaring parts of Syria "safe."

The Copenhagen government has also toyed with the idea of opening camps for asylum-seekers in Rwanda, although it still has no deal in place, unlike Britain.

mm/sms (AP, dpa)