Migrants Enter Denmark, Determined To Reach Sweden

Migrants Enter Denmark, Determined To Reach Sweden

6:47pm Sep 10, 2015
Migrants, mostly from Syria and Iraq, set out on foot along a highway on the Danish-German border, heading north to Sweden on Wednesday. They arrived that morning on a train from Germany.
Migrants, mostly from Syria and Iraq, set out on foot along a highway on the Danish-German border, heading north to Sweden on Wednesday. They arrived that morning on a train from Germany.
CLAUS FISKER / AFP/Getty Images

According to European rules, refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the first country they reach. That hasn't always been possible in the chaos of the past few weeks. Since Sunday, an estimated 3,000 people have crossed the border into Denmark, but most of them don't want to register here. Instead, their sights are set on Sweden.

On Wednesday, some 300 refugees left an intake center near the German border and started walking north along a major highway. Footage from Danish television shows them chanting, "Sweden, Sweden."

In another Danish border town, refugees refused to get off trains arriving from Germany because they were afraid of being registered — which could prevent them from seeking asylum in Sweden.

You might think that a wealthy, peaceful place like Denmark would be ideal for asylum seekers. But members of the new right-wing government, like Integration Minister Inger Støjberg, have been doing their best to discourage that image.

"I haven't hidden the fact that I think there are too many asylum seekers coming to Denmark," she told Danish Broadcasting on Monday. "That's exactly why we've tightened up, first of all, on benefits. And it's also why I've announced there will be more tightening-up down the road."

On the same day she spoke with Danish Broadcasting, Støjberg placed ads in Lebanese newspapers touting Denmark's new rules that cut welfare benefits for refugees by half and make it harder for families to reunite.

But Michala Bendixen of the group Refugees Welcome says that even with the changes, benefits for refugees in Denmark are among the best in Europe.

"That's the crazy thing, is that the ad is not really truthful," she says. "In many ways, it's better than Germany and just as good as Sweden. But, yeah, this is the impression they're trying to give."

And so migrants continue to focus on Sweden.

Danish police have not forced migrants to register. Those migrants holed up at the border Wednesday eventually left. Some got into private cars driven by sympathetic Danes and headed toward Sweden.

Mette Hermansen is with Welcome To Denmark, an organization that is, among other things, helping to coordinate transportation to Sweden. She says Danes know it's illegal. But, she says, "For someone to get a fine in Denmark, it's a very small risk to take, if you compare to what these people are fleeing from and what they've experienced."

Meanwhile, Bendixen says she hopes the events of the last few days could be a first step in changing Denmark's anti-refugee reputation.

"It's become such a big issue in Denmark the last many elections, that the politicians, they have like a competition going on to be the most strict one because they think that's where all the voters are," she says. "But the last week has shown that there's a lot of Danes who, on the contrary, are actually very open and very positive to refugees."

Politicians may get another eyeful on Saturday. That's when 29,000 Facebook users say they'll be attending a pro-refugee rally in Copenhagen.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There's a flipside to Europeans who reject Middle Eastern refugees. Refugees are rejecting certain European countries.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

It's happening in Denmark. So many people are arriving that Danish officials halted some train service yesterday. Danish officials complained they're receiving too many people.

INSKEEP: Many new arrivals are saying that's fine with them because they don't want to stay. In other words, thanks, I'm good, just passing through. People fleeing wars in Syria and elsewhere prefer to reach a country that actually wants them.

MONTAGNE: That impulse is causing trouble. New arrivals are refusing to register when they arrive in a country they dislike. Sidsel Overgaard reports.

SIDSEL OVERGAARD, BYLINE: According to European rules, refugees are supposed to seek asylum in the first country they come to. That hasn't always been possible in the chaos of the last few weeks, and now an estimated 3,000 people have crossed the border into Denmark since Sunday, but most of them don't want to register here either. Their sights are set on Sweden.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: (Chanting) Sweden, Sweden, Sweden.

OVERGAARD: Just yesterday, some 300 refugees left an intake center near the German border and started walking north along a major highway. Footage from Danish television shows them chanting Sweden, Sweden. In another Danish border town, refugees refused to get off trains arriving from Germany because they were afraid of being registered here, which could prevent them from seeking asylum in Sweden. You might think a wealthy, peaceful place like Denmark would be ideal for asylum-seekers. But members of the new right-wing government, like Integration Minister Inger Stojberg, have been doing their best to discourage that image.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

INGER STOJBERG: (Through interpreter) I haven't hidden the fact that I think there are too many asylum-seekers coming to Denmark. That's exactly why we've tightened up - first of all, on benefits. And it's also why I've announced there will be more tightening up down the road.

OVERGAARD: On the same day she spoke with Danish Broadcasting, Stojberg placed ads in Lebanese newspapers touting new rules that cut welfare benefits for refugees by half and make it harder for families to reunite.

MICHALA BENDIXEN: Which is actually not true.

OVERGAARD: Michala Bendixen of the group Refugees Welcome says even with the changes, benefits for refugees in Denmark are among the best in Europe.

BENDIXEN: That's the crazy thing, that the ad is actually not really truthful. In many ways, it's actually better than Germany and just as good as Sweden. But yeah, this is the impression they're trying to give.

OVERGAARD: And so migrants continue to focus on Sweden. Danish police have not forced migrants to register. Those migrants holed up on the train at the border yesterday eventually just left. Some got into private cars driven by sympathetic Danes waiting nearby and headed toward Sweden. Meda Hamonson (ph) is with Welcome to Denmark, an organization that is, among other things, helping to coordinate transportation to Sweden. She says Danes know it's illegal but...

MEDA HAMONSON: For someone to get a fine in Denmark, it's a very, very small risk to take if you compare to what these people are fleeing from and what they've experienced.

OVERGAARD: Meanwhile, Bendixen says she hopes the events of the last few days could be a first step in changing Denmark's anti-refugee reputation.

BENDIXEN: And it's become such a big issue in Denmark the last many elections that politicians, they have, like, a competition going on to be the most strict one because they think that's where all the voters are. But the last week has shown that there's a lot of Danes who are, on the contrary, very open and very positive to refugees.

OVERGAARD: Politicians may get another eyeful on Saturday. That's when 29,000 Facebook users say they'll be attending a pro-refugee rally in Copenhagen. For NPR News, I'm Sidsel Overgaard in Denmark Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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