A truck drives through the Danish border. Photo: Getty
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Denmark is the first EU country planning to run anti-refugee adverts in foreign papers

The controversial Danish “information campaign” will be run in foreign newspapers and is intended to deter potential refugees from Syria and Northern Africa.

The Danish words for “marauding” and “swarms” may not yet be a feature of the rhetoric of the country’s politics, but the same sentiment is at work. The government in Denmark has announced plans to advertise in foreign newspapers, beginning in Turkey.

This “information campaign” is intended to deter potential refugees from Syria and Northern Africa. No other nation in Europe has yet advertised its desired deterrence so explicitly, or so far away. But the rise of the populist Danish People’s Party, now a dominant force in the new rightwing minority government, reflects a changing tide of opinion that is taking immigration policy into new territory.

The plans confirmed by Inger Stojberg, the integration minister, have been controversial. Denmark received 14,815 Asylum applications in 2014, almost double those of the year before. Reports in the Danish press have revealed that documents comparing the benefits of several European countries are given to refugees by smugglers. The suggestion is  that the refugees are making a calculated choice to travel to Denmark, to reap the benefits not available elsewhere. 

The new government has swiftly cut benefits for asylum seekers by 45 per cent, with further benefits made conditional on meeting language requirements. Stojberg has asserted that the information campaign will only contain “facts“ such as these, and will allow them to reach  refugees in Turkey and the Mediterranean who are considering Denmark as a destination. The point is that diminishing the benefits on offer will only have a deterrent effect if the refugees themselves are made aware. 

The plans have been deeply polarising. Critics insist that the disincentives are pointless: they assert that neither the cuts to benefits, nor the ads themselves, will actually decrease the number of refugees seeking asylum. 

But the opposition to the plans goes beyond the merits of their effectiveness. Many fear that the ads could diminish more than just the number of people seeking to claim asylum, but also Denmark’s international reputation for tolerance.

A Danish Facebook campaign that started out of opposition to the policy has already funded ads in the Danish newspaper Politiken and in the Guardian, with a message which reads: “Dear refugees, we welcome you to Denmark.”

The group, which has over 20,000 followers plan to run a similar ad in Germany’s Taz newspaper this week.

As the “ad wars” persist, politicians on both left and right have expressed unease. Some from the ruling Venstre party have labelled the plans “un-Danish”, and business leaders have warned that the ability of Danish businesses to compete for foreign recruits could suffer. One CEO put it starkly to the Berlingske newspaper: “Many foreign graduates are concerned about how their colleagues will look at us and fear that we are a bunch of closet racists.” 

In truth, the desire of governments to appear intolerant to all forms of immigration has continent-wide resonance. Denmark’s new policy is of a piece with those of Britain where, confronted by the growing migrant crisis in Calais, the government has pushed through new legislation to clamp down on immigrants in private tenancies. Landlords could face up to five years imprisonment for failure to evict migrants whose visas have expired, too.

The implication is clear. Europe’s governments are drawing a line in the sand in front of millions of refugees from war-torn, deprived parts of the world, too desperate not to cross it. 

Other European countries have advertised in foreign media to dissuade asylum seekers in the past: both Austrian and German governments have advertised in Kosovan newspapers this year. They argued that this was necessary as the vast majority of applicants from these countries were rejected, on the grounds that Kosovo is officially a safe country. The adverts did result in a net decrease in applications to Austria, at least.

But the Danish policy is a new frontier: unlike previous such ads, it’s aimed at refugees who would have a good chance of successfully claiming asylum. Austrian ministers have considered adopting the Danish approach but are reticent.

“The situation for people from Syria is completely different,” Interior Ministry spokesman Karl-Heinz Grundböck has said. “There is a very high probability that those people will be granted asylum and so there is no reason for an information campaign in these other countries.

With the number of refugees arriving at European borders increasing, this reticence will be tough to maintain.

The ethics of this policy are shaky at best – but if it works, countries may turn a blind eye to the morality of it. And it is striking that it is one of the countries that has historically been most accepting of those fleeing war and famine that is pushing the ethics of EU immigration policy. 

Emmanuel Akinwotu is a journalist based between Lagos and London who writes about Africa, migration, and specialises in Nigeria.

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Stephen Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising space makes him almost as bad as Trump

The physicist's inistence on mankind's expansion risks making him a handmaiden of inequality.

“Spreading out may be the only thing that saves us from ourselves,” Stephen Hawking has warned. And he’s not just talking about surviving the UK's recent run of record breaking heat. If humanity doesn’t start sending people to Mars soon, then in a few hundred years he says we can all expect to be kaput; there just isn’t enough space for us all.

The theoretical physicist gave his address to the glittering Starmus Festival of science and arts in Norway. According to the BBC, he argued that climate change and the depletion of natural resources help make space travel essential. With this in mind, he would like to see a mission to Mars by 2025 and a new lunar base within 30 years.

He even took a swipe at Donald Trump: “I am not denying the importance of fighting climate change and global warming, unlike Donald Trump, who may just have taken the most serious, and wrong, decision on climate change this world has seen.”

Yet there are striking similarities between Hawking's statement and the President's bombast. For one thing there was the context in which it was made - an address to a festival dripping with conspicuous consumption, where 18 carat gold OMEGA watches were dished out as prizes.

More importantly there's the inescapable reality that space colonisation is an inherently elitist affair: under Trump you may be able to pay your way out of earthly catastrophe, while for Elon Musk, brawn could be a deciding advantage, given he wants his early settlers on Mars to be able to dredge up buried ice.

Whichever way you divide it up, it is unlikely that everyone will be able to RightMove their way to a less crowded galaxy. Hell, most people can’t even make it to Starmus itself (€800  for a full price ticket), where the line-up of speakers is overwhelmingly white and male.

So while this obsession with space travel has a certain nobility, it also risks elevating earthly inequalities to an interplanetary scale.

And although Hawking is right to call out Trump on climate change, the concern that space travel diverts money from saving earth's ecosystems still stands. 

In a context where the American government is upping NASA’s budget for manned space flights at the same time as it cuts funds for critical work observing the changes on earth, it is imperative that the wider science community stands up against this worrying trend.

Hawking's enthusiasm for colonising the solar system risks playing into the hands of the those who share the President destructive views on the climate, at the expense of the planet underneath us.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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