Denmark and immigration brings images to mind of Danish authorities taking valuables from immigrants – assets exceeding $1,450 are meant to pay for the migrants’ subsistence – and refugee families being separated for years, as the Danish waiting period for applying to be rejoined with family members is one to three years. Sandwiched between the most popular European destinations for asylum seekers, German and Sweden (although the latter changed their integration laws this summer), Denmark tries to get a message across to anyone seeking asylum that it is not an attractive place to go. There is, however, some positive news from the North.
As we have seen throughout Europe in the past year, refugees also walked on Danish highways in search of a safe place to live. While watching these images, former chairman of Danish club Brondby IF Per Bjerregard thought about how football might be able to help refugees. Not only does being part of a sport association mean that you will meet other people, Danes and non-Danes, and thus build a network that will be helpful when it comes to finding a job, exercising also means focussing on something else than the traumas of ones past or difficulties of building a new life. And thus the idea of an asylum-seeker football league facilitating integration was born.
The project will pilot with four asylum centres, and hopefully expand nationwide. The Head of Strategy and Project Developments of Red Cross, who backs the plan, has high expectations and is even talking of an international league with the same structure of the Champions League. One could wonder, however, why it is necessary for refugees to have their own competition instead of competing in the regular Danish football league. It seems to counter the positive words of integration and contact with Danes when immigrants only play with and compete against other immigrants.
Nevertheless, the project, also backed by the UEFA, the Danish football association and several big names in Danish football, seems to be a very positive note in the wider bleak picture of attitudes towards integration. One of the participating asylum seekers, Poyenda Mohammad Alimmy, believes football can help him attain a better understanding of the Danish culture. It’s important to be in school and learn about grammar, but partaking in the community and meeting other people is really what it takes to fit in a new society.