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Denmark: How has COVID-19 affected migrants?

Denmark: How has COVID-19 affected migrants?

When coronavirus began to spread in the spring of 2020, Denmark was one of the first countries to introduce radical national measures at very short notice. By 13 March, most of the country had been shut down, including schools, educational institutions and daycare centres for children. Bars and hotels were closed; restaurants could only sell take-away food. Most people were urged to work from home, and public transport services were reduced. All this seemed effective, and Denmark has never been seriously affected by the virus. Even during the current second wave of transmission, the numbers of dead and infected are under control, and the country has not been shut down as it was during spring.

Impact on migrants and ethnic minorities

Nine months after the pandemic entered the country, it is clear that migrants and ethnic minorities have been more affected by it than the average population. This was documented in the annual 'Integrationstræf' of 1 October. According to professor Marie Nørredam from Copenhagen University, these are the main causal factors of the difference:

  • Ethnic minorities are more likely to be employed in sectors where there is a high risk of virus contraction, e.g. health, transport services and hospitality;
  • People in minority communities are more likely to live in smaller homes, particularly in flats rather than houses, and more often with their extended families;
  • Such individuals in Denmark have been shown to suffer more often from chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart problems and obesity.

Migrant and refugee children have also been more affected than Danish children during the months when schools and daycare centres where shut down. All schools offered online teaching, but that requires a stable internet connection, decent IT-knowledge and equipment, and parents must know how to engage in Danish on the communication portal, Aula. Not always able to meet these requirements and with smaller social networks, many migrant children faced a difficult time.

According to Jan Rose Skaksen from Rockwool Foundation, an disproportionate number of people with a minority background are working in sectors severely affected by the pandemic such as transport, hotels, restaurants and retail. Furthermore, any economic crisis usually leads to companies firing those employees with the lowest level of training or education, and the last ones to be employed. On average, migrants are less educated and have fewer years of employment than ethnic Danes. This means that migrants have more often lost their job or income due to COVID-19 than native citizens.

Access to information

Denmark has a population of 325 000 adults with a non-European background, and on top of that a large population of people from other European countries. A considerable number of these people are not fluent enough in the Danish language to understand detailed written information documents or a news programme in Danish. An obvious problem during the initial shutdown and introduction of new restrictions, therefore, was the lack of translation.

Daily press conferences with the prime minister and health authorities were broadcasted live on national television with live deaf interpretation, but without subtitles or live translation into other languages. The official state website with information on new COVID-19 rules was only available in Danish, as was the popular information on the websites of national TV stations. The official COVID-19 web page has now introduced a link to translated texts, but it has come too late for many.

During the first weeks of the pandemic, NGO Mino Danmark and a hospital clinic for minority health took it upon themselves to translate the most important information into the most common migrant languages. After one month, the NGO Danish Refugee Council found private fund money to launch a website with relevant, translated information and a hotline service in 25 languages, but this is no longer working.

The Ministry of Integration launched a campaign at the end of March, focusing on delivering information to residents with minority backgrounds in social housing projects. It produced translations of official information and guidelines in 9 languages, and distributed printed versions in relevant areas. In October, the Danish Health Institute also produced videos in Somali, Urdu, Farsi, Arabic and Tigrigna detailing how to use face mask correctly.

Some of the municipalities hosting a large number of citizens with minority backgrounds have been more affected than other areas during the second wave. As a consequence the Brøndby municipality has produced videos in Turkish and Urdu, and one aimed specifically at young people.

Consequences for legal status

Some countries have extended or made access to legal status easier during the pandemic, but Denmark has indirectly made it harder.

Dublin transfers of asylum seekers were suspended between March and July 2020, and even now in November very few transfers are being carried out. A historically low number of asylum seekers have arrived in Denmark as the borders have de facto been closed. Asylum interviews have been carried out via video or postponed.

Language schools were closed for months, access to counselling very limited and job training programmes cancelled. Family reunification was in effect put on hold, as it was not possible to travel from most countries into Denmark.

Permanent residence permits and citizenship depend on passing language tests and holding a full-time job for over three years, including at the time of application. The pandemic has made it harder for many people to meet this criteria, as Harun Demirtas argues in this article. A member of parliament asked if it could be ensured that applications from these people would not be turned down because of the COVID-19 situation, but their request was denied by the Ministry of Integration.