Anti-migrant sentiment lifts Denmark’s right-wing

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JUDY WOODRUFF: But first: As Europe continues to struggle with the refugee crisis, Denmark’s government is claiming success in reducing the number of people claiming asylum there, and says other countries want to copy its methods.

Despite that success, the Danish electorate is moving to the right. After complaints, people have filed charges of racism against an extreme right-wing party which has been handing out what it calls asylum sprays.

From Thisted in Northwest Denmark, Malcolm Brabant reports.

MALCOLM BRABANT: In a small town 250 miles from cosmopolitan Copenhagen, the new Party of the Danes is distributing what it calls asylum spray, ostensibly as a defense against potential immigrant sex attackers.

The campaign has been condemned as provocative and xenophobic. Nonetheless, the spray finds several takers.

WOMAN (through translator): It’s my daughter that needs it, the way Danish society is at the moment.

CAMILLE FEMHOEJ (through translator): They can’t just come here and do whatever they want, like staring at girls in nightclubs and stuff. They shouldn’t be allowed do that.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The spray was conceived by party leader Daniel Carlsen, who admits denying the Holocaust as a teenager, and is now trying to win support to run for Parliament.

IB NIELSEN: I think we have too many people in Denmark from Arab countries. I don’t like it. I don’t like Muslims.

MALCOLM BRABANT: This region of Denmark is fertile ground for the right. And even though the cans only contain hair spray, the symbolism touches a chord.

PERNILLE TOPHUS (through translator): You never know what can happen. Just a month ago, I was followed home on my bike.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Organizations like the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees think what you’re doing is disgusting. What’s your response?

DANIEL CARLSEN, Leader, Party of the Danes: They are working for and promoting an invasion to Europe, an invasion that, by time, will replace the indigenous Europeans here with people from the non-Western world.

I think that is disgusting. And what their politics are resulting in, we see that in Europe every day now. We see rapes, like the incidents in Cologne. We have seen terror attacks in Brussels, in Paris, in Copenhagen, and that’s only the last year.

MALCOLM BRABANT: In an increasingly hostile atmosphere, Syrian musician Nour Amora has found acceptance. We met Amora just over a year ago, as the Danish government slashed welfare benefits for refugees in an attempt to make the country less attractive to asylum seekers.

NOUR AMORA: I make this concert to know the people, to know the artists, the musicians, to make something with them, to work, yes. I don’t come to Denmark to sleep.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Amora has been true to his word. He supports himself and his small family with two jobs. And on this day, he was entertaining schoolchildren and educating them about the war in Syria. Music has opened doors that are closed to other refugees.

NOUR AMORA (through translator): I tell my friends that now it is not good to come to Denmark because of the government, but if you do come, you will find that the Danish people are really nice.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Singer Leila Rong Hanna was born in Denmark. She has Syrian and Norwegian heritage, but has dissuaded relatives in Damascus and the Syrian port of Latakia from fleeing to Europe.

LEILA RONG HANNA, Singer: Because this is not the perfect life you get. It’s quite difficult, not only the journey, if you survive in the journey, but also when you come here. It’s quite uphill.

MALCOLM BRABANT: That’s music to the ears of many at the Danish Parliament, because it’s a sign that the country’s policies are working. One of the most satisfied is Martin Henriksen of the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party, whose support keeps the center-right government in power.

MARTIN HENRIKSEN, Danish People’s Party: Well, last year, about 20,000 asylum seekers come to Denmark. And this year, we expected 10,000. This year, we are about around 5,000 at this time. But 5,000 is still too high. We want to — actually, in the perfect world, we want to reduce the numbers, so that nobody will come to Denmark as an asylum seeker. So we’re not quite there yet.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But Peter Christensen’s recently constituted New Right Party claims it’s even tougher on immigration. It’s attracted significant support in recent surveys after pledging to stop immigration altogether, instantly deport foreigners convicted of crimes, take Denmark out of the U.N. Refugee Convention and ban head scarves in schools and public offices.

Critics fear this swing to the right is reminiscent of 1930s Europe.

PETER CHRISTENSEN, New Right Party: I can’t see how that should compare to the situation in the ’30s, with the discrimination of the Jews, aggressive nations attacking each other in the ’40s, the Holocaust. There’s no comparison whatsoever.

What we’re talking about is, we want to implement a foreign policy that has been normal until 40, 50 years ago. It’s not — nobody has the right to come to Denmark. They have right now because we are in the conventions. But, I mean, morally, nobody has the right to come to Denmark. It’s not like we are expelling any people. We’re just saying we want to have control of who comes into our country.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Denmark’s deterrence of asylum seekers has enabled it to it close 17 refugee centers, including this one in a former psychiatric hospital. The policies worry not only people fleeing violence in the Middle East.

Chen Man is concerned about the time it’s taking to process her asylum application. She spent seven years in jail in China for belonging to Falun Gong, the outlawed spiritual movement.

CHEN MAN, Chinese Asylum Seeker: I feel, like, worried, because I feel, like, unstable for my security. I need a kind of protection from the nation. But if I cannot have, the risk of myself is going back to China and facing the imprisonment again.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Chen Man believes Denmark’s hostility towards asylum seekers is a sign of weakness.

CHEN MAN: Yes, this is not the way to resolve the problem. And it’s also a kind of way to show the fear inside, because if you are strong enough, you can handle that without building up a wall, but a bridge.

MALCOLM BRABANT: So what’s the source of Denmark’s right turn? Is it from the population or political ideology?

Nils Holtug is the director of migration studies at Copenhagen University.

NILS HOLTUG, University of Copenhagen: I think, to some extent, politicians have probably been responding to what are real worries amongst Danes. But they have also been driving those worries, so — especially the Danish People’s Party, but also some of the new parties that are coming up now.

I think the Dane Party is very worrying. And it was established by former members of a Nazi movement in Denmark. So I’m actually quite worried about that.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Are you a Nazi?

DANIEL CARLSEN: No.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But you were a National Socialist before?

DANIEL CARLSEN: I’m a National Democrat.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But you were a National Socialist before.

DANIEL CARLSEN: Before.

MALCOLM BRABANT: So, are you saying you’re a reformed National Socialist?

DANIEL CARLSEN: No, I’m a National Democrat.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But you were a National Socialist — and that was the Nazi Party — before.

What’s happening in Denmark is consistent with a surge to the right across Europe.

One of the more controversial pieces of legislation enacted here was the so-called jewelry law, which authorized the authorities to confiscate the assets of those migrants and refugees deemed wealthy enough to be able to pay for themselves, rather than relying on the state.

Now, that law came into effect in February, and it’s only been used three times. Now, the Danish government may have attracted lots of international criticism for its methods, but ministers say that there are other European countries that are seeking their advice about how to reduce their numbers.

With Syria still spinning out of control and Europe’s migration crisis showing no sign of abating, does Denmark feel the need to toughen its stance still further, a question for the government’s migration spokesman, Marcus Knuth.

MARCUS KNUTH, Liberal Party: Part of the reason why we have such a low influx of asylum seekers right now is also because of the E.U. deal with Turkey. If that deal breaks, if there’s more trouble in the Middle East and so forth, everything can change.

So, right now, we’re happy that the situation seems to be under control. But there are so many factors out there that things can change.

MALCOLM BRABANT: A strong police presence forces refugee supporters to keep their distance from a monthly anti-Muslim demonstration. They demand asylum for all, while the right-wingers deplore the growth of Islam. The migration crisis is polarizing European society.

Although the numbers prepared to demonstrate on the streets aren’t great, opinion polls show sentiments expressed at gatherings like this are gaining traction, not just in Denmark, but across the continent.

For the “PBS NewsHour,” I’m Malcolm Brabant in Copenhagen.

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