COPENHAGEN—Denmark’s government, which depends on an anti-immigration party to pass legislation, is sticking to a hard-line stance on refugees despite growing public support for a more open approach.
“Denmark has become the Hungary of the Nordic region, a transit country to a place that will welcome a refugee,” the liberal Politiken daily wrote recently.
Known for their egalitarian policies, the Danes have been named the world’s happiest people in numerous surveys and enjoy one of the world’s highest standards of living.
But as Europe’s refugee crisis spread to Scandinavia, many were shocked to wake up to pictures of refugees running from police and walking on motorways just to reach the Swedish border.
“Denmark is not a good country for us,” Abdulrahman Alshehagi, a 26-year-old Syrian lorry driver, told AFP after walking on the country’s roads and then taking the train across a bridge to the southern Swedish city of Malmo.
For Copenhagen politicians, the sight of refugees avoiding Denmark at all costs may initially have seemed like something that would appeal to voters, especially the one-in-five who in a June general election backed the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP).
The minority right-wing coalition that took power in June campaigned on tougher asylum rules and halving benefits for newly arrived immigrants to make the country less attractive to refugees.
To ensure that they got the message, it placed adverts in several Lebanese newspapers on Sept. 7 warning that “Denmark has decided to tighten the regulations concerning refugees.”
Published just days after images of drowned Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi shook Europe and the world, the adverts drew widespread criticism and helped galvanize those who oppose the government’s immigration policies.
Within days, a Facebook group for Danes helping asylum seekers with their everyday lives attracted thousands of new members and became a forum for people willing to drive refugees to Sweden, which has more generous asylum rules.
Nynne, a 44-year-old woman from an affluent part of Copenhagen, said that although she had never considered herself an activist, she got into her car and drove to Lolland, a rural part of Denmark where many refugees arrive on ferries, because she “wanted to do something.”
After unsuccessfully scouring the pitch dark roads, postings to the Facebook group eventually guided her to three Iraqi Kurds who wanted to go north of the border.
To avoid unwanted attention, the three spent the night in her apartment until the border crossing was busier.
After briefly suspending rail links between Denmark and Germany to prevent refugees from entering, Danish police last week said they would allow people to pass through the country without registering if they were not planning to seek asylum.
On Sunday they said 5,000 migrants had entered the country since September 6, of whom only 900 had applied for asylum.
In another sign that public support for Denmark’s ever-tighter asylum rules may be waning, some 30,000 people joined a Copenhagen rally on Saturday in favor of taking in more refugees.