Tendai Tagarira, a poet who was granted political asylum in Denmark after criticising Robert Mugabe, settled in Aarhus. Before leaving Zimbabwe, he had a bad collision on his motorcycle, after the brakes were tampered with. He was made a sort of poet in residence as part of being a refugee and then the money ran out and then he became a refugee under the usual rules. His case has been mishandled a lot, mistakes have been made A LOT. He has suffered because of these mistakes, like the month where he had no money at all because his caseworker made a mistake.
He writes bits for the Copenhagen Post, gives talks and so on. This is, in the Danish system, a “B income”. He also runs an excellent website called “Aarhus Culture“, which he started as a reaction to being refused entry to a bar because he is black.
This website has all sorts of different articles about Aarhus and has a wide readership. It is growing but it is in a very early stage of development. The Integration Department for Aarhus said that he could run this website as part of his integration contract, after support from the mayor.
He writes one article critical of the Integration Department and THE NEXT DAY, they contact him to say that he can no longer run the website while he is on kontanthjælp. They say it is because kontanthjælp is for getting people to be self sufficient as soon as possible and that he cannot support himself with the income from the website right now.
He had an hour long meeting with Lene Brink of the Integration Department. She interrupts him a lot, she repeats herself and never lets him finish his points. She takes advantage of technical difficulties at the start to push the agenda from a presentation about his project to an attack. She responds to him before the interpreter is finished, almost as if she does not need an interpreter. She speaks in English at some points before she remembers herself, she works through an interpreter the rest of the time. She speaks in long paragraphs, so the interpreter must simultaneously translate, the effect is very confusing. It is supposed to be. She uses the Danish language as a weapon, in this way. She can interrupt in stereo. She often says “You should be listening to what I say,” and “Can I finish,” and “If I can just say,” as if he is interrupting her. She talks to him like a child about “respect” when he interrupts her towards the end.
She feels superior to him. You simply do not interrupt people you feel equal (or inferior), to. Why on earth does she feel superior to a famous poet, published author with a background in law and finance who is running a much more successful website about integration than her department is able to make?
She accuses him of making threats when he makes the reasonable point that the way Denmark treats African refugees will come back to haunt them, when they want to do trade with African countries. Denmark needs people like Tendai, not just because he contributes to Denmark’s culture but because Denmark will need help understanding how to do business in African nations. Interpreting “if you treat me with disrespect, I will not stay in your country and you need people like me,” as a threat, is indicative of her attitude towards Tendai in particular (and African men in general, probably, since she cannot know Tendai individually all that well).
His choice, as she tells it, is that he can either run the website without kontanthjælp (which will make him homeless) or he can stop running the website and receive kontanthjælp. He makes it clear that her threats to cut him off do not scare him. She tries to make out that it is “his” decision not to receive kontanthjælp by continuing to work on the the website.
His reading of the law is that as part of his integration contract, Aarhus should be helping him run this website.
Her reading of the law is that he should not be running websites for integration into Danish society when he could be applying for jobs in supermarkets.
He would do manual labour if he could. He can’t. He was badly injured when his brakes were cut in Zimbabwe. He is trying to create a business that will support him financially, using the skill set he has developed over many years. He is close to being self-sustaining, working on this projects. The Integration Department of Aarhus would prefer he be close to being self-sustaining, by doing nothing but apply for jobs.
This is the reality of “integration” of refugees in Denmark. You can come for political asylum for criticising your own country, as long as you don’t get uppity and use free speech to criticise Denmark. You can live here, as long as you work stacking shelves and not as a professional or equal. You must exist as supplicant. Grateful. Humble. But above all. Silent.
There is a petition you can sign, if you feel the same as I do.
- Aarhus Culture Under Persecution by Lene Brink: Head of Aarhus Integration Dept. (aarhusculture.com)
- What does Experience Aarhus mean to you? (aarhusculture.com)