Immigration

Theme

The newcomers

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As in many other countries, Danish kings and bureaucrats had from the earliest ages a pragmatic attitude towards immigrants and refugees. If they could be of use, or help in trading, production, building or administration, they were welcome. Even though examples of accepting political refugees exist, it wasn't until the 20th century that it became a tradition.

In 1520, Christian II brought 184 Dutch families – renowned for their vegetable farming skills – to the island of Amager just outside the capital's gates. In 1720,Frederik IV invited French Huguenots to seek refuge in Denmark. The protestant Huguenots had lost their freedom of religion in 1685 and sought safe havens in the rest of Europe, bringing with them tobacco-growing. In 1759, Frederik V recruited Germans – later known as potato Germans" because they planted the otherwise unknown tuber in the sandy soil of Jutland's moors. Moravians – also called the Unity of the Brethren – settled here with their reputation for craftsmanship and commerce. Kings also recruited individual foreigners to serve in their bureaucracies and rewarded migrants by granting them religious freedom, their own public institutions, as well as tax exemptions and other financial incentives.

Swedes and beet Poles
Between 1860 and 1910, more than 81,000 Swedes immigrated to Denmark. They were drawn here to work building the country's railways or Copenhagen's fortifications. Some men worked in the nation's brickworks or on farms, while women became servants, especially in the homes of eastern Denmark. Most were seasonal workers who took the jobs Danes wouldn't do. In the 1870s, a new type of crop – sugar beets – began being planted, especially on the islands of Lolland and Falster. Planting, weeding and harvesting the beets was backbreaking manual labour. Beginning around 1893 and lasting until 1929, young women from modern-day Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Hungary were recruited to work on sugar beet farms as seasonal labourers. By 1911, "beet Poles", as they were being called, accounted for 28 percent of all labourers on Lolland and Falster. They were often housed in cramped, shoddy "Polack barracks".

Aliens Act
In 1908, a law was passed that sought to improve healthcare and housing conditions for seasonal workers. Until the 19th century, immigrants relied on the privileges granted them by the king, but they gradually gained more rights as the country crystallised its social protections. But as the protections were established, it became important to define what sort of connection people had to Denmark – and whether it was strong enough for them to receive benefits. The country's first real immigration law, the Aliens Act of 1875, declared that all foreigners seeking work in Denmark must register with the police and prove that they could support themselves for at least eight days.

Guest workers and their families
The economic boom of the 1960s sparked a wave of immigration, primarily from Turkey. The new arrivals were given the name "guest workers". The oil shocks of the 1970s and the ensuing rise in unemployment put an end to open immigration to Denmark and much of western Europe. Even though the EU's enlargement has meant an increase in the number of Eastern European workers, the largest group of immigrants in Denmark remains refugees and the families of previous immigrants. Increasingly tough immigration legislation led to the implementation of the 24-year rule in 2002, which sought to prevent forced marriages by requiring that immigrant spouses be at least 24.

By the grace of the king
Helping refugees didn't take on a humanitarian aspect until the mid-19th century. Foreigners could freely live in Denmark if they could support themselves, and if they didn't subvert the king or the Lutheran Church, but in the end, it was the king who decided if immigrants were of use enough for him to permit them to remain here. In the late 17th century, refugees from Scania were allowed to settle in Denmark in recognition of their service to the Crown during the Scanian Wars. By the mid-19th century, there was increasing interest in giving safe haven to those in danger of political persecution or those fleeing war and poverty. Around 1900, some 10,000 Orthodox Jews immigrated from Tsarist Russia, where they faced persecution. Most departed again for the US, but during their stay here the Danish state and the Jewish community lent a helping hand.

The rise of human rights

The aftermath of World Wars I and especially II saw increasing focus on helping refugees at home and abroad. In 1948, the UN passed its Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which included the right to asylum for political refugees. The economic turbulence of the 1920s and 1930s and the upheavals in Europe during the period meant, however, that many refugees were turned back at the border.
At the end of World War II, there were 245,000 German refugees in Denmark. They were housed in refugee camps and had little contact with the outside world. The last refugee returned home in February 1949.

From the world's hotspots to Denmark
Refugee patterns in the post-war period were a reflection of global politics. After the first wave of refugees from Hungary made their way to Denmark in 1956, groups from Vietnam, Chile, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka, the Palestinian areas, Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Somalia have all sought shelter here.
Immigration has played a decisive role in the formation of Danish governments on more than one occasion.

Key political issue
In January 1993, the Conservative government of Poul Schlüter stepped down after it was revealed that the Minister of Justice, Erik Ninn-Hansen, had stalled asylum applications for a number of Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. In 2001, a non-Socialist Liberal-Conservative government came to power with the backing of the Danish People's Party – who campaigned on a platform of tighter immigration regulations. The party itself called the election a "watershed" moment.
Immigrants and the children of immigrants make up about 10 percent of the country's population.