“I came from Aleppo, my house was bombed, my father and brother were killed, bombers were flying around.” This is how a refugee answered when I asked her why she came to Denmark.

By Sakura Kuroiwa

Her reply was a big eye-opener for me. I realized that all the events that I only knew through TV actually took place. Coming from Japan, which is an island country far away, I was never conscious of refugee problems, and I must confess that I didn’t even know the difference between refugees and immigrants. After talking to refugees, I started investigating this. Why is there a refugee problem in as great a country as Denmark? How can the problem be solved?

How refugees are dispersed?

Living in Denmark, the European refugee problem felt more familiar and closer. I saw many people who seem like they came from the Middle East, border checks are strict and there are many policies and opinions about refugees which I was unfamiliar with. I thought it was a great chance to learn more about them. To start,

I went to the Language school (Sprogcenter) in town to hear the real voices of refugees. Surprisingly, there were many more refugees in Odder than I expected. I began to wonder how all these people ended up in Odder, which is a small town in Jutland. I also interviewed the vice-mayor of Odder and asked what brought them here. He explained that when refugees first come into Denmark, they are all sent to the refugee camp in Copenhagen.

They stay there for a year and after that, they are sent to different municipalities (kommuner) decided by the government. Each municipality would give them a flat, work and support. I asked him if all municipalities’ attitudes are the same, and he said:

“Odder is a small tight-knit community, there is trust and a bond among the local people. I make the most of this to find the right place for them.”

In Odder, the local job center contacts different work places to see if they can accept refugees to work for them. The boss and the refugee have a short job interview and after an approval, they can work there as an intern employee for 2-3 months. Right now, refugees are working in many places such as kitchens, factories, farming and agricultural areas. On other days, they go to a language school 2-3 times a week. I understood that the local community is cooperating to offer as much as they can.

Integration issues

However, there remain segregation problems among Danes and refugees. Most of the refugees are Islamic, which means that they follow Sharia law. I have been told that some believe women should always stay in the home, and not be around men other than their husband.

Even when women refugees get a job, there are some cases where their husband will not allow them to go out of the house, or he will follow his wife to avoid her having contact with any men. This law is not working in Denmark. Though I assume it is hard for the Muslims to just adapt to the liberation of women and flip over their beliefs they have had for their entire lives.

On the other hand, there are some examples of enforced integration such as the ‘Meatball war’ (frikadellekrigen) where local politicians forced people at public institutions to eat pork – or another example: ‘To be Danish, you have to celebrate Christmas”. How can a refugee be defined as Danish? I asked one of the refugees, and she told me: “I become Danish by sharing the same values”.

 When Culture Complicates

Sometimes, not only religious but also cultural differences get in the way and that makes the situation more complicated when foreigners arrive in a new country. One of the Kurdish refugees I interviewed claims that while Kurds and Arabs are both Muslims, Kurds can accept shaking hands whereas most Arabs cannot due to their culture.

I can understand this as a Japanese but non-religious person, since we do not have a hugging or kissing culture, I felt some difficulties until I got used to it. How did I overcome them? Well, in my situation I just got used to them. Now, when I go back to Japan I feel like hugging all my friends whom I haven’t met for a long time regardless of what gender they are. I acknowledge that Japan has much more equalities in gender compared to the Middle East in general; I wonder what compromise can solve this deadlock.

 Let Foreigners Talk

We also have to know that it is not only locals who are confused by the whole refugee problem, but also the refugees themselves. The Kurdish refugee that I spoke to, points out that after coming to Denmark from the war, they feel deflated that here it is so peaceful and people think about peaceful things. She felt guilty about being free from the reality of where she lived and ‘lost the sense of who she really is’.

She also claims that she wants to get opportunities to speak out about how refugees’ daily lives are and have more conversation with the Danes. Even though it might not be possible to understand each other completely, it is at least possible to try to minimize the lack of trust. It is true that there are many politicians trying to do their best to solve this problem; however I think the most important thing is to also involve the refugees in the investigation and try to solve the problems together.

Altivisten has payed a visit at Odder Højskole, to meet up with the young inspiring people staying at the school. From this visit a series of articles has been made to discover the possibilities of sustainable living, social communities and action toward a better world. Learn more about Odder Højskole