Denmark’s government says refugees aren’t welcome—so citizens are reaching out instead

Danish citizens protest new refugee policies in August.
Danish citizens protest new refugee policies in August.
Image: EPA/Emil Hougaard
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Not all destinations are created equal, for those seeking shelter in Europe. But last month, the once-welcoming Danish government surprised many by sending a clear, forbidding message to any refugees en route: Stay out.

As Quartz previously reported, the Danish government took out ads in 10 languages in Lebanese newspapers As Safir, An Nahar, and The Daily Star warning potential asylum seekers about the difficulties of gaining residency in Denmark. Of the 4 million refugees displaced from war-torn Syria, Lebanon currently hosts about 1.2 million of them—many of whom are eager to move on.

The response was swift: Days after the ads ran, Danish citizens took matters into their own hands. A campaign called People Reaching Out condemned the government’s message and called for funds to run apologies in the same papers.

Denmark’s The Local reports that the group met its funding goal and published the ads on Oct. 2. The ads are identical to the originals, with warm, apologetic marginalia urging refugees to come to Denmark.

The country’s current unfriendliness toward refugees is a relatively new development. General elections in June resulted in a new center-right parliament, which promised this summer to cut down on immigration, starting with dissuasive measures like cutting social benefits in half.

“The effect will hopefully be that fewer asylum seekers come to Denmark,” said integration minister Inger Stojberg.

It’s a dramatic about-face: As Quartz previously reported, as late as March this year, Denmark had one of the EU’s highest rates of approval for asylum seekers, at 87%.