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Greenlanders in Denmark

Internally displaced

Homelessness among Greenlanders in Denmark is a problem. How big is anyone’s guess

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Down and out in Denmark
An estimated  20,000 people of Greenlandic descent live in Denmark

People from Greenland living in Denmark have higher rates of a number of social problems than the overall population, including homelessness, criminality and substance abuse

Between 6% and 20% of people from Greenland living in Denmark have social problems

When it comes to homelessness, nearly one in five spent at least one night in a homeless shelter between 2007 and 2011. This is a rate 50 times higher than for the population as a whole

When it comes to income and public assistance, six out of 10 are considered low-income. Among 18-60 year-olds, average income was 40% lower than average

Between 2007 and 2011, more than half received public assistance, five times more than the population as a whole. The amount received per person doubled during the period, and was 25% higher than average

Many Greenlanders suffering from social problems in Denmark were also dealing with social problems in Greenland

Some Greenlanders who move to Denmark find work or complete job training, but, in general, moving to Denmark does not improve living conditions

Source: SFI , Social Welfare Agency

Ask at Denmark’s homeless shelters, and they will confirm that, from time to time, they see a spike in the number of people from Greenland living on the streets in Denmark. But, ask them for hard facts about the number of homeless Greenlanders there are, and they’ll admit they are non-existent.

While there are numerous examples of people coming to Denmark from Greenland and winding up on the street, according to Robert Olsen, the head of Kofoeds Skole, an organisation that provides services for the homeless in both countries, there is no documentation for how many there are or which way their numbers are headed.

“If you repeat something enough times, it becomes the truth,” he says. “But, the reality is that we don’t know.”

SEE RELATED: Symptomatic solution

The last time an effort was made to count how many of the 20,000 people of Greenlandic descent in Denmark who are homeless was in 2006. Other studies conducted in the meantime have shown higher rates of a number of social problems among Greenlanders living in Denmark than the overall population, inclding homelessness and unemployment (see more at right).

Mr Olsen, himself a member of advisory councils on homelessness to the Copenhagen city council and the national government, has repeatedly urged the social-welfare authorities to update its figures, but to no avail.

Also in the national assembly, lawmakers say not having a clear idea of the extent of the problem is a hindrance to coming with ways to address it.

“We need to find out more about the group, so I am calling on the social-welfare minister to make sure we have updated figures,” Aaja Chemnitz Larsen, one of Greenland’s two elected representatives in Copenhagen said earlier this month. 

SEE RELATED: Making hard time a little easier

She noted that organisations offering services to Greenlanders believe the number is on the increase, but says that only a new count would confirm whether this was the case.

Her statements come on the heels of a series of questions put forward in March by Martin Henrik Brodersen, also a member of the national assembly, in response to a series of articles about the problem of homelessness published by AG, a Greenlandic newspaper owned by this website’s parent company.

“I think we should look into why they are coming. Are they fleeing Greenland? Are they coming here because they lack opportunity?”

For many Greenlanders, moving to Denmark, according to Mr Brodersen, ends up being a step down the social ladder.

“Most of them are penniless and living on the street. That’s not right. I’d like us to look into why so many of them leave their home country and the life that is familiar to them and come to Denmark, where they end up living on the street.”

SEE RELATED: Welcome funds

Responsibility for social services has been devolved to Nuuk, and Mr Brodersen finds that this is often brought up as a reason for Copenhagen’s inaction on the issue of homelessness among people from Greenland living in Denmark.

“I think we should demand more from the Self-Rule Authority,” he says. “They are responsible for taking care of their residents so they don’t feel a need to move to Denmark.”

Currently, Danish authorities spend 36 million kroner ($5.3 million) on social programmes for people from Greenland living in Denmark. Another 10 million kroner is spent on projects run jointly with Greenlandic authorities. 

SEE RELATED: Greenland ready to mount legal challenge for rights of ‘fatherless’

Mr Brodersen argues more needs to be done. If not, he warns Denmark will see more of what he calls “domestic refugees” created by the failure of the authorities in Nuuk to care for them.

“Some might find that a provocative term, but it underscores that I believe we have a problem. It’s not a matter of whether people from Greenland should move to Denmark. All Greenlanders are welcome in Denmark, but they shouldn’t have to move here because they have to. They should move here because they want to.”

This article was originally published in the March 31 issue of Sermitisaq, a Greenlandic newspaper that is owned by this website’s parent company. It is republished here with additional reporting.

Photo: Leiff Josefsen