Danes Counter Government’s Refugee Hostility With Public Apology

Citizens fund an ad to counter the government’s public warning toward asylum seekers.
People demonstrate in Copenhagen, Denmark, on Oct. 6 to show their support for refugees after the Danish government tightened rules for asylum seekers. (Photo: Scanpix Denmark/Reuters)
Oct 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Officials in Denmark have gone out of their way to make it clear that refugees are not welcome in the Nordic country. They’ve shut down transportation services, opted out of the European Union’s resettlement program, and taken out newspaper ads warning asylum seekers living in the Middle East of Denmark’s stringent policies. But some Danes want to assure refugees that they don’t agree with their government’s harsh stance.

A group of civilians called People Reaching Out issued a public apology on behalf of their government, Denmark’s The Local reports.

“Sorry for the hostility expressed toward refugees,” reads an advertisement printed in Lebanese newspapers on Oct. 2. “We wish to extend our sympathy and compassion to anyone fleeing war and despair.”

The campaign uses a Danish government ad that ran last month in four Lebanese newspapers. The government-funded ad listed restrictions in an effort to discourage asylum seekers from making their way to Denmark. Within days of the ad’s debut, People Reaching Out started fund-raising on Facebook. The group raised about $25,000 to place its counter ads, in English and Arabic, in the same four Lebanese publications, according to The Local.

Roughly 1.3 million refugees—from war-torn nations such as Syria, Afghanistan, and Eritrea—are in Lebanon, according to figures from the U.N. Refugee Agency. A lack of funding for refugee programs in the Middle Eastern nation has resulted in thousands of refugees leaving for Europe by boat each day, NPR reports.

But the conservative Danish officials wanted to let those struggling in Lebanon know just what they’d face if they entered Denmark. Spearheaded by Integration Minister Inger Støjberg, the ad campaign not only warned potential asylum seekers that social benefits had been slashed by 50 percent but also reinforced several other restrictions, including not being able to bring family members and a language proficiency requirement to become a permanent resident.

People Reaching Out isn’t the only group to fight back against the government’s sentiments. Even before the government ads went public, a group of women ran a “Welcome to Denmark” ad in U.K. and German newspapers in August. Other Danes have focused on the government’s harsh policies. Some 30,000 people headed to the offices of parliament in Copenhagen on Tuesday, demanding decent treatment for refugees, according to the AFP.

The government has not made a move to increase funds or welcome more refugees. However, its ads are under investigation by a parliamentary ombudsman over allegations of being misleading, leaving refugees with the impression that they are not welcome instead of simply listing information about asylum policies.