When Denmark’s foreign minister announced the country’s decision to publish anti-immigration ads in foreign newspapers, Turkey seemed like the obvious choice. Instead, the ads appeared in Lebanon. Yanita Georgieva explores the factors behind Denmark’s sudden change of heart.
Samiha does not remember the last time she bought a newspaper. Since she fled her Syrian hometown Idlib two years ago, she has been begging on the streets of Beirut. She has heard about the people trying to get to Europe but not of the Danish advertisements in the papers. “It seems like they don’t want us,” she says when she understands their content. “What’s the point of going if we have to force ourselves on them?”
When Denmark announced its decision to publish anti-immigration ads in foreign newspapers, it hardly came as a shock to the world. In mid-July, Integration Minister Inger Støjberg had already named Turkey as the potential target. And yet, when the ads were finally launched three weeks ago, they surfaced in four Lebanese newspapers.
It is an odd choice for an expensive campaign. The 225,000 Kroner (€30,100) initiative was intended to reach as many refugees as possible to publicise the government’s tighter immigration laws, making Turkey the ideal platform.
It has not only taken in the biggest number of refugees in the world – roughly 826, 000 more people than Lebanon – but is also the most common entry point to Europe. Refugees in Lebanon benefit from the lack of visa needed to fly to Turkey, which gives them an easy route to Greece. Even in that scenario, passing through Turkey is a given. Why, then, did Denmark refrain from the obvious choice?
“In Lebanon, no one is going to say ‘no’,” says Dr. George Massé, chairman of the International Relations department at the American University of Science and Technology in Beirut. “This is especially true when it comes to Al-Nahar newspaper, which is not a leftist or centrist newspaper, but a radical right one. For them it wasn’t a problem to post such an advertisement. Maybe the Turks refused.”
Speculation that 5 main Turkish newspapers refused to publish the ads surfaced shortly after Denmark’s change of heart. When asked if they would agree to publish them, most newspapers said it would depend on their content. In an interview for the Danish Gazette, the editor of the Turkish newspaper Cumhuriyet, Dogan Satmis, called the advertisements “extremely distasteful, immoral and unethical”. But when asked about the issue, a spokeswoman for the Danish Integration Ministry denied the claims.
“It is also a question of numbers. 36% of the Lebanese population is refugees. It’s more densely populated and refugees are easier to reach, but I don’t think this type of propaganda newspaper will stop people, if not to reach Denmark, then to reach another place in Europe – which is their main aim.”
Amidst the current refugee crisis, Denmark has become more of a transition state than a destination. Out of the 12,800 refugees that have made their way across the border this month, only 1,500 have applied for asylum.
“Refugees are choosing which countries to reach,” adds Dr. Massé. “They are insisting on Sweden and Germany because of their asylum schemes. In the Arab world, there is nothing for them – no social benefits, no democratic regime.”
Despite the lack of social security, most refugees in Lebanon don’t leave. Integration is easier – they share a language and cultural norms. The Lebanese labour market has been dependent on the cheaper Syrian workforce for more than twenty years. In light of the crisis, public schools have also waived the school fees up for all elementary and middle school students in the coming year.
“It’s easier to live here,” says 52-year-old Samiha. “If the situation in Syria improves, I would go back straight away. But until then, we’re staying here.”
Whether it has been through advertisements or simple word-of-mouth, the message has spread: Not all of Europe is welcoming.