Media Backlash Over Asylum Law Has Denmark Looking for PR Rescue

Denmark is treating the media fallout of its controversial asylum law “very seriously” as the government embarks on a public relations campaign to repair the damage, according to Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen.

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“It’s difficult to get the message through,” Jensen said in an interview in Copenhagen on Thursday. “Obviously there have been some newspaper stories that we’d rather have been spared.”

The comments follow a plea from Denmark’s business community, urging the government to address the international backlash over its strict asylum law. With media in the U.K. drawing parallels with Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews, the feeling in Denmark is that a “line has been crossed,” according to the Confederation of Danish Industry.

The group, which represents 10,000 companies, said the Scandinavian country’s reputation is now at risk, with some business leaders even expressing fears of a repeat of the 2006 Muhammad cartoon crisis. Back then, Denmark became the target of protests and boycotts across the Middle East after a newspaper published caricatures of the Prophet.

“It is critical that the government and the Foreign Ministry put an end to the misunderstandings and myths” surrounding the government’s migration policy, said Karsten Dybvad, head of the Confederation of Danish Industry.

The Danish parliament this week gave its final approval to a series of measures designed to deter migrants from heading to Denmark. These include delaying family reunifications from one to three years, a law that has been heavily criticized by the United Nations Refugee Agency.

But it is provisions allowing officials to confiscate valuables from asylum seekers that have provoked the biggest uproar. The law permits the government to seize goods and cash in excess of 10,000 kroner ($1,460), though personal items including jewelry and mobile phones are exempt. Any amounts taken will be used by the authorities to help cover the cost of an asylum seeker’s stay until his or her application has been approved.

Denmark wants to “get across the story that we’re not the first country to have a rule of paying to stay,” Jensen said. “More and more countries are imposing the same demands on their asylum seekers.” The government “has been engaged in public diplomacy for weeks to sort out all the misperceptions,” he said.

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen is under pressure to reduce the influx of migrants and preserve Denmark’s welfare model as he presides over a minority government that survives with the backing of the nationalistic Danish People’s Party.

Denmark received 21,000 asylum applications in 2015, up from around 15,000 in 2014. It has since introduced temporary spot checks on its border with Germany. The country will spend 0.57 percent of gross domestic product on refugees in 2016, according to a discussion paper by the International Monetary Fund. By comparison, Germany is estimated to spend 0.35 percent of GDP. Sweden tops the list, at 1 percent of GDP.

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