Becoming Cosmopolitan In Denmark
Even though the Danish Red Cross tries to create a respectful, peaceful and diplomatic atmosphere in the centers, this does not exclude the existence of conflicts, some of which are difficult to resolve, and may go so far that police involvement may be necessary.
“Birds of a feather fly together” is a metaphor for the fact in any society; that normally people form relationships and friendships based on shared values, morality, religion, level of education and common interests. It could be in the interest of the asylum seekers and the organizations which manage the centers if this fact were taken into consideration when housing asylum seekers.
When arriving in Denmark for the first time, applicants for asylum live for a while in a reception centre, named Sandholm, before they are transferred to one of several other accommodation centers, of which most are managed by The Danish Red Cross.
In Sandholm, when they first arrive, the asylum seekers are put in small rooms to be shared between three to four persons. They are assigned rooms, with no regard to national, ethnic, cultural, or social origin. When they are moved to long-term accommodation, to more comfortable rooms (with television), they still share with three to four other people but now with those of the same origin and language (same country or region). But they do not take into account social status, morals, character and educational background and sometimes people bring tribal (ethnic) conflicts with them.
“We are four persons and we come from different countries in Africa,” said Mr. Aksanti, “actually, the relationship between us is good and we try to manage small conflicts ourselves without going to the Red Cross office. Examples of small conflicts are when people don’t do their share of cleaning, they have differing tastes in music and sometimes one person will want to sleep when the other wants to read a book and have the light on. Being tolerant is essential if people are to get on. Mr. Aksanti put it this way, “Silence is a good way to resolve many conflicts, you have to put up with the problem because we still have to try to live together allowing for our differences.”
However, sometimes the inhabitants need assistance to resolve the problems. Mr. Aksanti continues,
“At Sandholm, I once lived with the most complicated person I have met in my life. I have lived in many countries, and I have met many people of many cultures and characters, but I have never met anyone like him. He was aggressive and always shouting and yelling. He stole our money and books. He used our soap and toothpaste. When confronted he got very aggressive and tried to bite us. In the morning at 04:00, he usually prayed with a very loud voice like in Christian churches in Africa (he prayed for bad things to happen to us) and he refused to put out the lights at night and when we tried to approach him politely, he just told us to shut up. One day at 19:30, he put out all the lights and said, ‘shut up I want to sleep’. Though we tried to approach him politely, he bit one of us and there was blood all over the room. The Red Cross office called the police, who came to investigate.”
Mr. Aksanti continued:
“The biggest conflict I witnessed between three woman. They came from different regions of African with big differences in culture, age and level of education. One of the woman almost terrorised her room mates every day, every night, every minute. She continuously talked about how she was more beautiful, more powerful, more wealthy than the others. She received money from her family in Africa while the others sent their pocket money to their families in Africa. Consequently, she ate better than her room mates, had better clothes etc. She stopped talking to the others, and she did not see them and treat them as persons. When all methods failed, she cried, ‘no sens, shat up’, and menaced to kill them. The Red Cross and police removed the menaced persons urgently.”
The Red Cross’ solution
The Red Cross’ usual solution is to offer the person who makes the complaint another room. But maybe they don’t want to move because they feel they are being punished, when they did not cause the problem. New Times suggests an alternative, which is for the Red Cross to try to get all those concerned together (not one by one) and give them some advice on conflict resolution, so that there is a chance for change and better understanding of the situation. After a long period, in case of no respect of Red Cross advisers, they have to move without any condition. This could assist in the future persons responsible of conflicts to change and accept to live with others.
Other potential hot spots
In asylum centres, people not only share rooms, but may also have to share toilets, kitchens, bathrooms, washing machines, etc. In all these places, conflicts can arise, for example on the line in the cafeteria, in the Internet cafe room or between women when their children fight. Sometimes Red Cross have to call the police to bring order.
The consequences of conflict
Many asylum seekers believe that how they behave will have a consequence for the outcome of their cases. The staff in the Red Cross office told New Times that they never give information to the police or the Immigration Service about minor conflicts in the centres. Obviously, if the conflict gets violent and they have to call the police, then the police know, but this will only affect a person’s asylum case if they are found guilty of a serious crime. Immigration Service Head of Division, Jakob Dam Glynstrup, says,
“if an asylum seeker is detained by the police after a violent incident in an asylum centre, this will not have an effect on their asylum case. For a violent incident, or any crime, to have an effect, the asylum seeker must have been convicted in a court of law of a serious crime that carries a sentence that includes expulsion from Denmark; then the person can be excluded from obtaining the refugee status.”
Prevention is best
Many people would agree that education can be a great bridge between people. Experts and professionals from different cultures often have more in common with each other than they do with people from their own cultures, who have little or no education. This can be seen in international organizations where the racial, the tribal (ethic) differences are not problems for people even though they come from different continents, countries or regions. Thus putting people of similar educational level together might promote harmony within some shared rooms.
Universities for life
On the other hand, helping all asylum seekers to be more tolerant will help prepare them for life in cosmopolitan Denmark. In my culture we say “a goat can’t become a sheep”, meaning people can’t change. But I believe that given the right environment they can and that the experience of being in an asylum centre can be positive.
Thus asylum centres in Denmark should be seen as “universities“ which prepare newcomers for living in a society in which they have to become cosmopolitan persons without discrimination and creating friendship in Danish society in which everyone will have his place.