by Marcel van Hattem
“Are you dreaming of returning to your home country? Then you have a possibility to receive public fundings to help fulfil your dream”.
With this rather catchy marketing-wise opening, the Department for Repatriation of Aarhus Municipality’s webpage announces an offer of financial support for immigrants or refugees that are already settled in Aarhus (but are not citizens of Denmark) and wish to return to their home countries.
If they reached the conclusion that they want to go back to where they came from, we offer financial support, but it is for them to decide about it
Anne Marie Frederiksen
The anthropologist Anne Marie Frederiksen, 49, explains that, at the moment, the Municipality is working on targeting the Turkish community in Aarhus. Also the Vietnamese are informed about this possibility in a special way: ‘Home from Aarhus’ program website has even a page translated into their language.
The program is opened to all who meet the established criteria, which basically are to have a residence permit in Denmark and not holding double citizenship. Ms. Frederiksen is one of the main staff responsible for the program.
“There is no ‘success criteria’ to measure this initiative. People have to be sure of their decisions, that is the most important: if they reached the conclusion that they want to go back to where they came from, we offer financial support, but it is for them to decide about it”, she highlights, clearing misinterpretations that the program could be an incentive for unwanted people to leave Denmark.
Communication is essential
Dialogue with target communities is considered essential.
“We have a close cooperation with the Danish Refugee Council, in addition to people like Mr. Hüseyin Arac, former member of the Danish Parliament and now in the City Council, who help to spread the word”, states Ms. Katrine Buus Nielsen, 29, who is a lawyer and works together with Ms. Frederiksen in the repatriation program.
The financial support for people who decide to move back to their countries of origin is of DKK 6,242 for the ones under 18 and DKK 18,730 for adults.
After one year back in their home countries, they receive an extra deposit of respectively DKK 31,960 (under 18) and 106,532 (adults).
“Additionally, one can apply for travel expenses for single ticket, transport boxes and health insurance, among others. One of our major challenges, though, is to ensure people that the money will in fact be deposited. Many still doubt it”, Ms. Frederiksen says.
Even though there is no “success criteria” they have to reach, the program is constantly evaluated. Some of these assessments happen on the field, with visits to families that have accepted the support.
Sivas and Corum, in Turkey, are two of the places that are hometowns of many residents of Aarhus. Ms. Frederiksen visited those cities last month.
“People sometimes need help to adapt themselves to an environment that is actually new. The countries they left maybe 30 years ago changed a lot. Sometimes, especially for the elderly, it is not easy to adapt”, she comments.
What if people regret their choices?
“This is very tragic. It can and does happen, but fortunately it is very unusual. Two things can happen: either they could theoretically return to Aarhus or have to remain in their new homes, depending on if they meet the criteria to immigrate back to Denmark again. These have also changed a lot with the time”, explains Ms. Nielsen.
“This is why we invest in giving all information first, so people can make their decisions consciously, and the right ones for their lives.”
Aarhus as a new home
Denmark is still one of the countries with the highest net migration rates in the world. It is the first among the Nordic countries and the seventh in Europe.
The better economic shape of the country if compared to the South of the continent still drives many immigrants from all over the planet to places as Aarhus. Especially refugees from conflict areas, according to official figures.
Namir*, 26, is an Afghan who decided to make his way to Denmark in 2009. “I fled from my home country because of the many phone calls I received from the Taliban, threatening they would take my life, if I did not ally to them”.
The reason for these threats, he believes, was his close proximity to Western governments and institutions, as he had activities as translator from Farsi to English and French. Later, he also travelled the whole country, both working for a French company and as a free-lancer.
More than three thousand people looked for asylum in Denmark in 2011 and over six thousand in 2012, especially from Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan, according to Statistics Denmark.
The number of successful applications, though, is dropping in proportion: 2,249 in 2011 and 2,585 in 2012, less than half of all applicants. Applications of Afghans dropped from a 1,512 applications in 2011 to 576 in the previous year.
After a tiring journey to Denmark, for many involving travel by land, air and sea, the next challenge is the integration in a new country with different culture. “I started off working in a supermarket, to integrate better and learn the language”, tells Namir, who is now taking Danish language courses in order to be accepted in a High School level course in Photography in Aarhus.
“It is said that there is prejudice in Denmark, but I think people who come here have to make an effort to take part in the society”. His desire is to continue in the country with his professional activities and perhaps return to his home country later, “when the situation allows”.
Until then, his new home is Aarhus.
* Namir is a pseudonym.