Denmark welcomes Ukrainians under a special law, with an expiration date – News Block

On a sunny afternoon in Hvidovre, a quiet suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark, Tanya Herasymova enjoyed coffee and cake with a dozen other Ukrainians who have fled the war at home with Russia.

She said she regularly comes with her mother to this makeshift cafe for refugees, which was organized by the Danish Red Cross within a cozy community space in the Filmbyen area.

Herasymova, a disability rights advocate who uses a wheelchair, is originally from Kamianske, a city in eastern Ukraine. When the first bombs went off in Ukraine, Herasymova said she and her colleagues from Fight for Right, a disability rights organization, had already made evacuation plans. She traveled by road through Poland and Germany before arriving in Denmark in March last year.

She only planned to stay for two months. But as the war continues, life becomes unpredictable for Herasymova and the nearly 37,000 Ukrainians who have fled to Denmark since Russia invaded Ukraine 16 months ago.

“It’s changing all the time,” Herasymova said. “Sometimes, it’s so nice to be here, it’s a great support and we will win (the war). That is our great desire. But sometimes, you get annoyed with the bureaucracy… and you need to manage, and you have to follow many, many rules.”

In March 2022, Denmark passed a law known as the Special Law that allows Ukrainians to circumvent the asylum system and speed up the process of obtaining a two-year residence permit along with employment and social assistance. But when the law expires in 2024, it’s unclear whether Denmark’s centrist government, with its generally hardline anti-immigration stance, will extend these temporary protections for Ukrainians.

When refugees arrive in Denmark, they usually go through a lengthy process that begins at the Sandholm Center, a reception center where asylum seekers stay for at least the first month, said Niels Svankjær Christiansen, section head of the Danish Red Cross. .

The refugees are then transferred to state housing with limited social assistance and undergo multiple interviews, which can last, on average, from six months to two years.

“Ukrainian refugees have had some benefits that we don’t see among other refugee groups, mainly due to the fact that they are allowed to travel directly to Denmark and stay in Denmark, in Danish municipalities, from the very beginning,” Christiansen explained.

Ukrainian refugees, once registered with one of Denmark’s 98 municipalities, must take Danish language classes and actively seek employment to receive approximately $800 per month, as well as assistance with housing, employment, health care, education and other social services.

According to the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 36,872 Ukrainians have received residence permits under the Special Law and 28,876 Ukrainians are currently registered with a municipality.

Herasymova is one of 241 Ukrainians registered in Hvidovre until April.

At first, he said that it was difficult to adjust to Denmark, especially because of the language barrier.

“At first, it was also difficult, because the (Danish) language is very difficult to understand. He is not familiar, not with English, not especially with Ukrainian, and besides, people were very nice, trying to understand us.”

Herasymova said she has also become more fluent in English over the past year. At the cafe, she offered to translate for other Ukrainian women who were eager to tell her story.

Like Svitlana Pinonik and her adult daughter, from the Zhytomyr region, who came to the cafe for the first time.

“All the people are very friendly and nice. I really appreciate this because people are very helpful, supportive and (make me) feel safe again. I am very, very grateful,” Pinonik said through Herasymova’s translation.

Pinonik has just learned that his house has been destroyed in recent attacks.

“I’m still in shock,” he said. “I lost my house and I still don’t know (what will happen) because it is still very stressful.”

Denmark’s ‘paradigm shift’ in refugee policy

At Copenhagen’s central train station, the flags of Ukraine fly proudly alongside the flags of Denmark, and there are signs of support for Ukraine almost everywhere in the capital.

On June 20, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen announced plans to add $3.2 billion in military, civilian and business aid to Ukraine on top of the $1 billion fund pledged in March.

Kasper Sand Kjær, a member of Parliament from the Social Democratic Party, who sits on the immigration and integration committee, said the exceptional reception of Ukrainian refugees was “obvious”, citing Ukraine’s proximity to Denmark as European neighbors amid a active, war in progress.

He also said that the Special Law will likely be extended after it expires in 2024.

“Europe has a special responsibility when it comes to a European country being invaded…so that was, I think, the obvious way to handle it,” he said.

However, this tension between long-term integration and repatriation remains a major problem in Denmark. The government continues to uphold its zero asylum target and Denmark is the only European country to have revoked the residence permits of Syrian refugees, claiming it was considered safe for them to return home.

Many human rights and refugee advocates have condemned the unequal treatment in Denmark.

“The strange thing about the Special Law for Ukrainians is that they don’t really have any rights,” said Michala Bendixen of Refugees Welcome Denmark, an advocacy organization that offers free legal advice to refugees and asylum seekers.

“A refugee has rights under international law. But Ukrainians are not refugees (in Denmark). Legally speaking, they have this permission only because of their nationality, not because of any risk or danger.”

Bendixen said this “paradigm shift” in refugee policy away from long-term integration and future protection means Denmark is only required to provide temporary protection in acute danger and expect them to return when conditions improve. even if it’s a bit at home.

“No one can be integrated in a few years. In fact, it takes a long time, maybe 10 years, before people really start paying back to society,” he said, adding: “The more you make people feel welcome and feel like they are an active part of the society, the more successful the integration will be. be.”

But Denmark’s current political climate indicates a hardline trend in the opposite direction, he said. Neighboring countries like Sweden are following Denmark’s lead when it comes to tightening restrictions on refugees and asylum seekers, she added.

Finding a home in Denmark

Back in the suburb of Hvidovre, Olesia Olinyk, from kyiv, Ukraine, joined her Danish friend Mona Elgaard on the back terrace of her house.

It was a national holiday, so the Olinyk family of four rode their bikes to the Elgaard house to enjoy the day off together. When they arrived, Mona Elgaard was in her well-lit kitchen making coffee while her two daughters, Astrid Elgaard and Kaya Elgaard, hung out with their pet hamster in the adjoining living room and her youngest son, Neel Elgaard, was taking a nap.

The two mothers met through another Danish Red Cross program that connects Ukrainian and Danish families to foster friendship. Their families immediately hit it off, they said, adding that the two text each other almost every day.

Here, on the back deck, to the sounds of the cheering crowd from the nearby soccer stadium, Olesia Olinyk told The World that her family fled Kiev in agonizing fashion early in the war. They fled with her husband, Vitaliy Olinyk, and her son, who is also called Vitaliy Olinyk, and her daughter, Angelina Olinyk.

Olesia Olinyk said her husband briefly volunteered for the military, but was given permission to leave the country when they were shown their daughter’s medical documents indicating problems with her blood that required special medication. After a brief stay in Poland, she said, the family traveled overland to Denmark and eventually registered in Hvidovre.

The couple managed to find work in Denmark, but getting long-term affordable housing remains difficult. The Hvidovre municipality helped the couple find a subsidized apartment near the train station, but they have to move at the end of June because the apartment is too expensive and the couple does not generate enough joint income.

Olesia Olinyk trained as an electrical engineer and now works three days a week in a cafeteria; her husband works full time as an engineer in a scandinavian company.

When Olesia Olinyk spoke to El Mundo in May, she said that her husband had written to the city authorities three times asking for a solution so that they could stay in his place. And Mona Elgaard even wrote a letter on behalf of the family. But everyone was told that Olesia Olinyk must also have a full-time job, like her husband, and earn a minimum of $2,100 a month to stay in her apartment.

“It’s really hard to find an apartment in Hvidovre because of course all small apartments are hard to come by because lower income people will want them,” Mona Elgaard chimed in.

Still, Olessia Olinyk tries to stay hopeful, continuing to search for a higher-paying job in her field.

“A year ago, it was a bad world, a bad life, but now we feel, of course, that we have a better life,” he said.

With the looming uncertainty of the war in Ukraine, Olessia Olinyk said the family can only plan hour by hour, but they intend to stay in Denmark for now so their children can finish their education.

Angelina Olinyk said adjusting to a new life in Denmark has been challenging, but she loves how the Danes are so friendly and smile at her on the streets.

“I have some new relationships, I have some new friends, I know a little bit of a new language (and) that’s a whole new thing for me,” he said.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top