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Refugees: Northern Europe is seeting. “Open doors” followed by closed borders.

The Scandinavian countries have been among the first to open the doors to migrants and refugees from Africa and the Middle East. But now, under the insistence of public opinion, national governments tighten up their laws and consider rejections. Christian churches have voiced their criticism, while Caritas and Catholic bishops make appeals to promote hospitality.

Northern Europe is simmering over the refugees-emergency, while every day the Balkan and Mediterranean countries have to manage thousands of stranded migrants arriving from Africa and the Middle East. And while the leitmotif from Helsinki to London is “rejections”, Greece and Italy invoke “redistributions”. These are paradoxes of a European Union that is lacking a common immigration policy and of 28 States which act according to their own criteria and interests.


Sweden: Church-government debate. A few days ago, statements on the suspension of the Schengen Agreement, which guarantees free movement inside the EU, were released in north European countries, notably Scandinavia. Sweden has gone further: on January 28 the interior minister of Stockholm, Anders Ygeman, said he would “resolutely send back all those whose asylum applications will be rejected.” Based on 163 thousand arrivals in 2015, Ygeman estimated that 45-50% of asylum requests would be considered invalid, amounting 60 to 80 thousand rejections. But Caritas Sweden does not accept this: “It is a political signal that the minister wanted to give in order to limit arrivals”, George Joseph, head of Caritas Migration office, told SIR. “Of course, if arrivals should continue at the pace of 2-3 thousand people a week, as in November, the hospitality system would reach a crisis point and it would be hard to ensure accommodation to all.” “The figures of the minister are incorrect,” Joseph contested. “So far, all Syrians and Eritreans have been allowed in, figures decrease in case of Afghans or those with other nationalities.

The minister is equally concerned about 6 thousand unaccompanied minors present in the Country today.

But Joseph insisted: “His statements are confusing for Sweden’s general public, while triggering feelings of mistrust towards Sweden on the part of the immigrants.” For the Caritas coordinator even rejected asylum requests “are those of people in need.” Thus Swedish Churches are jointly committed in “the effort of communicating to the public at large and to the government that this proposal is wrong and that it’s bound to fail”, while it’s important to promote solidarity inside the EU.

Caritas Sweden, Christian Churches and NGOs have launched a campaign for the defense of the rights of asylum-seekers. “We have arranged reception and support services in every parish.”


Denmark: fear for the future. Denmark is an emblematic case, with 21 thousand new arrivals in 2015. The country has plunged into a spiral of criticism and discussions over the new immigration law passed in Copenhagen’s parliament on January 26. In addition to the authorization to seize migrants’ cash and belongings exceeding 1,340 euros as reimbursements for the reception costs that the State will have to bear, the law tightens up provisions on family reunification (now allowed after three rather than one year of arrival), as well as those regarding the custody of children travelling alone.

In political terms it’s the price that Conservative Premier Lars Løkke Rasmussen is called to pay to the Danish People’s Party to prevent the collapse of the coalition government. Moreover, the bill received the green light also from the Social Democrats in the opposition.

“This law is nothing new. Some Danish parties have opposed immigration, especially of persons of Islamic religion, for decades”, explained the bishop of Copenhagen, president of the Bishops Conference of the Nordic countries, Msgr. Czeslav Kozon. “Now restrictions register a big step forward: it’s an important signal that shows just how much Denmark is worried and concerned about its national situation. Bishop Kozon, who had publically conveyed his criticism over the bill prior to its approval, said: “I realize that every country and every government has to face the great challenge of refugee inflow and must think about its own capabilities. But one cannot start by saying ‘we do not want them, they cost too much, they are a threat to our identity’. I would like to see efforts focused on reception, thereby facing the real problems under way.” At the moment these arrivals do not seem to create problems, “indeed the new immigrants seem to be met by a certain degree of sympathy,” added the bishop. “What makes us worry is the future; immigrants who have been here for many years, or the second generation, are already experiencing difficulties related to integration. Sometimes just an Arabic surname is enough to reject a young educated person who also speaks our language well. ”

The Catholic community, made up by immigrants and their offspring, have experienced it themselves.

“That’s why – concluded the bishop – we are following the developments with great attention. But we represent a small minority, and our voices are not influential.”


Ahead of the summit. Fears for the future are spreading, understandably, throughout Europe (thus not only in Northern Countries). For example, the latest statements by the British Prime Minister David Cameron convey the intention to accommodate 20-30 thousand migrants by 2020, “but not those already in Europe.” Rather, “taking them in directly from Syria and other conflict zones.” Meanwhile Finland intends to send back 20 thousand migrants who are not entitled to asylum. And the Netherlands, at the lead of the six-month EU Council of Ministers, is studying a plan to alleviate the migratory pressure. This situation grows more entangled by the day, waiting for the new summit of Heads of State and Government of the European Union of February 18 to 19, due to tackle the subject once again.


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