- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 2, 2002

COPENHAGEN Denmark's tough stance on immigration has begun acting as a deterrent to asylum-seekers, even before laws intended to prevent foreigners settling there come into force July 1.
The publicity that has greeted Denmark's policy is thought to have prompted a big decline in the number of asylum-seekers, which dropped from 3,033 in the first three months of 2001 to 1,877 in the same period this year.
The decision to clamp down on refugees claiming benefits has been fiercely criticized by the United Nations, other European countries and human rights organizations, who say the legislation which has been under discussion since a center-right government swept to power in the general election in November is racist.
"The bottom line is that Danes want to keep ethnic minorities out of Denmark," said Bashy Quraishy, the president of the European Network Against Racism and one of 20,000 Pakistanis in the country.
With more than 60 percent of Danes supporting restrictions on immigrants, the government stood firm on its election pledges.
"Foreigners represent a net burden on society," Immigration Minister Bertel Haarder said. "They cost more than they give back."
As parliament passed the laws Friday, the government indicated that doctors and other professionals necessary to plugging gaps in Denmark's health sector would be exempt from them.
Government agencies have appealed to educated foreign workers to move to Denmark to help shore up its work force.
Denmark, where immigrants account for 5 percent of the 5.3 million population a lower figure than in most European countries traditionally has offered refugees one of the most generous welcomes in the world.
Now the reception for refugees is distinctly chillier. Denmark is confronting a demographic time bomb as its work force shrinks, the number of pensioners rises and its generous social security system struggles to cope.
European critics hope to embarrass Denmark, which takes over the revolving presidency of the European Union in a month, into diluting the legislation.
However, the Danish government plans to encourage the European Union to adopt a uniform set of rules to stop the influx of refugees.
During the election, anti-immigration groups successfully appealed to voters' fears about the September 11 attacks, rising crime and the failure of many immigrants to integrate into Danish society.
One poster contrasted a group of blond Danish girls, captioned "Denmark today,"with a group of hooded, blood-stained youths who were carrying weapons and appeared to be Muslims, captioned "10 years from now."
The laws severely restrict access to Denmark for asylum-seekers, deny automatic entry to foreign-born spouses of Danes and the legal rights of immigrants to bring in their immediate families.
For those who do get into the country, conditions are much tougher. Welfare payments will be cut by 35 percent to 50 percent, depending on the size of the family. A married couple with two children now qualifies for payments of about $2,200 per month.

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