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Danish Party Stirs Immigration Controversry - 2001-08-24

A right-wing political party in Denmark has created an uproar by publishing a list of nearly 5,000 immigrants who have recently obtained Danish citizenship. Critics accuse the party of exploiting ethnic and racial divisions to pick up support in upcoming elections.

The controversy began Sunday after the Danish People's Party took out a full-page advertisement in Denmark's largest circulation newspaper that listed the names of the country's newest citizens.

Party Spokesman Soeren Espersen says the ad was meant to show Danes that their country, until now one of the most ethnically homogeneous in Europe, is being inundated by a flood of new immigrants. "We feel in our party that the amount (number) of foreigners that achieve citizenship is much too high, and this is depicting towards Danish population why it is unreasonably too many people that acquire citizenship every year," he says.

Mr. Espersen says in the past three years, 40,000 people have obtained Danish citizenship, rapidly changing the ethnic makeup of this country of five and a half million people. He says the overwhelming majority of the 4,700 names on the list published Sunday are immigrants from the developing world. "Over 4,000 of the 4,700 would be mainly Muslims from the third world, Somalia, Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran," he says. "We feel that some of those persons have also got great difficulty adjusting to Danish traditions and law, which we have unfortunately seen so many bad examples of recently."

Publication of the list has sparked howls of protest from Denmark's minority community, as well as from human rights groups. Morton Kaerum, director of the Danish Center for Human Rights, calls publication the list unethical, and says it unfairly exploits those named in a negative context. "What they achieve by publishing such a list is to create this "us and them" dichotomy in Danish society where every time a foreigner obtains Danish citizenship it is being perceived as a threat to Danish society," he says.

Mr. Kaerum says the right-wing party is simply whipping up ethnic hatred for political gain. "Their aim with this ad is to strengthen the platform of the party, which is hostile to ethnic minorities," he says. "So it is to send a signal to these persons who have obtained citizenship that we do not want you. It is a mistake that you obtained citizenship."

Mr. Kaerum says with local and parliamentary elections scheduled in the next six months, immigration is likely to be one of the main issues dividing Danes.

Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen has already made his position known, calling publication of the list "unacceptable". But the Danish People's Party hopes the issue will have enough resonance with voters to push them above the seven-percent mark they achieved in the last election.