In August 2011 Danish Red Cross, Danish Medical Association and Danish Refugee Council joined forces to open the first clinic for illegal immigrants in Denmark. It is a health service for foreign infants, children and adults, who do not have access to the Danish public health system. The clinic is located in central Copenhagen and is open Mondays and Wednesdays for all kinds of health problems. According to the Director Vibeke Lenskjold, the clinic was started after concerns were raised by doctors around Denmark about the health of illegal immigrants.
“So far it has been very successful,” says Vibeke. “When we started we were having six to eight patients a week, in the last few months the number has increased to about ten to twelve a week.” The clinic caused controversy when it was opened last August. The Danish People’s Party thought such initiatives would encourage more illegal immigrants to Denmark, but Vibeke is quick to point out that immigrants do not come to Denmark because they are sick, but rather come for other reasons and get sick during their stay here.
Illegal immigrants and asylum seekers have lauded the initiative. According to the United Nations, universal health is a human right, so the clinic comes at an opportune time when debate about the rights of immigrants continues to grow.
According to Danish Law, all people are entitled to medical care in cases of emergency. Illegal immigrants however have been slow to approach hospitals even in emergencies, for fear of victimisation or disclosure of their illegal status. According to Vibeke, this is a challenge even in her clinic, “People may be afraid, but we do not give information to the police, and so far we have not had any problems with the authorities. People should feel safe coming here”.
Approximately 5000 illegal immigrants live throughout Denmark. Vibeke says the clinic is just a start. She says she has a network of volunteer doctors across the country, and she can refer illegal immigrants who live outside Copenhagen when they need medical care. The clinic hopes to expand its services to include dental care by April and possibly extend the opening hours.
“So far, so good”, says Vibeke: “The clinic is financed by a private foundation and the Red Cross only sets guidelines on how it should be run. We hope we will have enough money to continue running the project”.