Monthly Archives: January 2016

An Open Letter to the Danish Social Democrats

The Honorable Mette Frederiksen

Leader of the Social Democrats

Folketing

Copenhagen

I am writing to record my protest of the new bill passed by the Danish Folketing which permits the seizure of refugees’ remaining assets, while also lengthening the wait period for family reunifications to three years. I am writing to you because, while I wouldn’t expect a more enlightened attitude from the racist, nativist parties in your political spectrum, I am deeply disappointed in the capitulation of the so-called “opposition,” Social Democrats, to the growing wave of hate that is spreading across Europe in response to this humanitarian crisis. Given Denmark’s enlightened history, the role of folk schools in empowering democracy among rural populations (a topic about which I have published a book chapter), and your party’s role in the establishment of one of the world’s most progressive social welfare states, this is a deep betrayal of your party’s stated values.

The bill as I understand it allows the Danish government to seize all but 10,000 Danish Kroner and some items of sentimental value from asylum-seekers and refugees, in order to pay for their care. It is as if you willfully fail to consider that refugees, especially from Syria, but also from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, have already lost the bulk of their personal assets, including often their homes and all the money they were forced to pay to smugglers because no legal alternatives for escape exist. They have also lost family members, their land, their friends, their neighborhoods, their careers, their schools, their futures – all of these things that have more than just cash value. They have been traumatized, and they need money for treatment. And in many cases, their families whom they have left behind also need funds to survive, so whether you like it or not, refugees have to work to send cash back to their families; they have no choice.

As we know, those who have no viable alternatives for escape must turn to smugglers to get themselves out of the danger zone, and beyond the danger and precariousness of squalid and overcrowded refugee camps. The smugglers, ever opportunistic, take as much money from the refugees as they can. What you have done with this bill, which in itself may well be a violation of international law under the Geneva Convention and Protocol on refugees, is to legalize extortion on behalf of the Danish Government that is no better than what the smugglers do. What you are effectively telling refugees is – like the smugglers – if you want to come here, you’ve got to be prepared to pay the price, and it doesn’t matter if you’ve already lost almost everything. The Danish Government now claims to need this blood money in order to keep providing human services. I would be ashamed to support any political party that espouses such a ghoulish platform.

From both a mental health standpoint as well as a strictly economic one, the faster unification with a refugee’s family provides mental stability and in fact makes it easier for one or more family members to enter the workforce and begin the road toward self-sufficiency and away from dependence on state support. This is what we have seen time and again in the U.S., because we know that economic integration is the quickest route to independence and, eventually, social integration as well. Worse, by taking away their laptops and mobile phones, you make it more difficult for them to even communicate with their families and achieve any kind of mental and emotional solace by being able to talk with their loved ones, people often still very much in danger and now even less able to join them.

Your bill may be a cynical attempt to discourage refugees from coming to your country when other European countries admittedly are not picking up their share. This of course is one of the great shortcomings of the European Union, that wealthy countries are not willing to share resources even with their poorer European neighbors. But rather than taking on this problem in the spirit of cooperation and humanitarianism, your approach strips refugees of their dignity, further stigmatizes refugees and actually discourages social integration – thus making it more difficult even for those whom you accept. Your policies promote racism among the young, push refugees deeper into poverty, and, in response, indirectly seed religious sectarianism down the road. Unfortunately, your party is complicit in these policies that will tear at the fabric of Danish (and European) society for decades to come, while at the same time making life gratuitously more difficult for those who have already suffered too much.

When a so-called left-leaning political party sanctions bills that are racist and that promote hate at their core, it makes it more socially acceptable for a broader segment of the population to adopt racist attitudes and violent behaviors against those who appear different from them. It teaches an undeniably wrong message to students that erodes the essential human ideal of co-existence. This won’t help you win elections – oh, maybe it will in the short term – but it is a form of selling your soul that will turn the whole country sharply to the right (and will continue the dismantling of your beloved social welfare state). People will be less likely to support you because in fact you show that you stand for nothing, you’ve merely become a self-protective machine that exists to get itself elected. This race to the bottom, to be the country that punishes refugees the most, in turn undermines international law and recognized covenants like the Geneva Conventions that represented the culmination of centuries of enlightenment. In fact, this abandonment of the law brings us ever closer to savagery. Are you proud of that legacy? Is it worth a few thousand kroner to you? How do you feel about the fact that you have been condemned by every international human rights organization, and the U.N., for joining hands and forces with racists? I would be embarrassed at this point to be associated with such an immoral position.

I cannot fail to mention that every economic study of new immigrants and refugees shows that, beyond the hysteria, they are a net gain to national economies. So you can’t even justify your actions on economic grounds. This is purely political cynicism and an attack on humanitarianism.

I fully support the artist Ai Weiwei’s decision to pull his exhibition from Denmark in protest of your inhuman policies. I wish more people shared his principles. Although I am not so important as he, I too intend to boycott any travel to Denmark and will recommend that the academic organizations to which I belong avoid Denmark in our selection of meeting sites. It’s a beautiful country with a rich culture that I was privileged to visit once, but I have no desire to add my spending money to your blood money.

Years ago, when I learned of the Mohammed cartoon incident, I told people to be careful in seeing this as a matter of principle, defending the freedom of the press, when I suspected instead it was intended as an anti-immigrant provocation, an opening salvo in telling immigrants and refugees they were no longer welcome in your pure country. It turns out my suspicion was vindicated. Your people were not interested in freedom of the press and of religion, you just wanted to rid yourself of those different from yourselves, and now you have adopted more desperate measures, even if you had to violate international law to do so.

I hope you can still look deep into your souls and adopt a vision for the future that is more hopeful and that strives to bring humanity together in peace and understanding.

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Filed under Denmark, Europe, Human rights, Syrians

The ‘Intentions’ Fallacy

I promised myself that being snowed in this weekend, and starting a new class on refugees and forced migration, I would make a point to jump start this blog again.  Especially now, because the last two years have seen a nearly 20% increase in refugees,  the dramatic influx of Syrians and Afghans to Europe, and a backlash against refugees and refugee humanitarian policy.  There’s no shortage of things to write about – I could write a new entry with every tragedy in the Mediterranean – but for personal reasons I haven’t been able to.  Well, New Year and new outrages, so let’s begin.

Being American, I first want to start with Gov. Nikki Haley’s response to President Obama’s State of the Union address, which repeats and amplifies the same mistaken views about who refugees are and how they differ from other immigrants.  Once again, the double-speak of those opposed to refugees gets the policy issues completely backwards.  She says,

“No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.

“At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can’t do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.

“We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.

“I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America’s noblest legacies.”

What is mistaken here is that it is precisely refugee admissions who are, of all immigrants, the ones whose intentions are the most easily determined.  In the case of Syrians, they are trying to get away from the same persecutors that the U.S. is fighting on the battlefield.  By definition, refugees’ intentions are to escape from persecution and find freedom and asylum, and while no system of interrogation and investigation is airtight, we have a better sense of why refugees would come to this country than anyone else would.  Ironically, it’s the “properly vetted legal immigrants” whose intentions are less certain, because they can be coming for work, to make money, to join families, any number of reasons.  As anyone who has worked in refugee resettlement knows, though, refugees are more vetted than any other population.  And since they are more likely to have risked their lives to get to a new country, coming as a refugee is the least efficient way of trying to infiltrate a country.  That’s just logic.

The other irony in her speech is that, if anything, “America’s noblest legacy” is its welcoming of refugees from persecution, originally religious, but expanding to other categories.  No country on Earth has resettled more refugees, and no country has naturalized more (meaning, given them full citizenship).  While a few other countries accept more on a per capita basis, sometimes, in absolute numbers no country has taken in more than the U.S.  Would we rather think of ourselves as a country that welcomes and absorbs those fleeing for their lives and seeking freedom, or a country that is interested in those who want to come and get rich?

So her binary opposition – and I can’t even say the Republicans’, because as we know at the same time the Republicans had a Spanish-language response delivered by a Cuban-American congressman that was more pro-immigrant – between refugees as shadowy arrivals whose intentions are unclear vs. well-vetted immigrants who are ready to, presumably, jump in and start earning money, gets it all wrong when it comes to how stringent the vetting process is.  (Not to mention anyone who arrives without papers or overstays the visa, since that makes them, in her eyes, automatically suspect.)  That’s not an ideological interpretation, it’s a factual statement of how the visa admissions process works.  Refugees are entitled to more protection, not more suspicion, but to get that protection, they already face more scrutiny.  And that also slows down the process for those fleeing for their lives.

I’ll stop there for now, and return later to talk about the Obama Administration and the latest wave of refugees from Central America.  But before that I have to address the latest openly anti-refugee law from Denmark.

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Filed under Afghans, Policy, Syrians, U.S.