Boycots in Sjælsmark

The rejected families have had enough: Boycotting Sjælsmark’s cafeteria

Since October 25, children and parents have been boycotting the cafeteria food in deportation center Sjælsmark. They ask for the center to be closed.

By Kajsa Böttcher Messell

The rejected asylum seeker families that are living in deportation center Sjælsmark have had enough of the cafeteria food in the center. The food is boring and lacks nutrients, and the children are afraid of the guards in uniformed police that is guarding the cafeteria. But the residents don’t have other options.

“We can’t cook our own food. Even those with small babies can’t keep hotplates,” tells Eden, 32. She is the mother of Noel, who’s 7. Together with a group of other families, they have been boycotting the cafeteria food in Sjælsmark since October 25.


A locked position

It’s not by coincidence that the conditions in Sjælsmark are bad. To the contrary, the center is designed as a ‘motivating measure’ in order to get rejected asylum seekers to leave Denmark. But many residents don’t have that option. For Eden, the problem is producing the necessary travel documents.

“I don’t have a passport, not even an ID card that can show my nationality. My parents are Eritrean, but I’m born in Ethiopia. When my parents and my sisters were deported from Ethiopia, I was only 13, so I didn’t get any ID or passport.”

Neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia recognizes Eden as a citizen. Denmark has tried to deport her to both countries, but with no luck. The police call it a ‘locked situation’ when a rejected asylum seeker cannot be deported. According to a document from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, 70 of the 93 children in Sjælsmark were in a locked position by September 8, 2018, and thus living in the center indefinitely.

The fault of the system

Nonetheless, politicians have accused parents in Sjælsmark for taking their children hostage in order to get asylum instead of leaving Denmark. But that’s a faulty logic, according to Eden.

“Where would we leave? If our governments don’t want to take us back, it’s their fault, it’s not our fault. If we travel to a different EU country, the Dublin agreement brings us back to Denmark. Is it our fault, or the fault of the system? But they blame the families,” she says, and almost laughs in resignation.

Eden came to Denmark 7 years ago, when her son was just 4 months old. Many other families in Sjælsmark have also been living as rejected asylum seekers for most of their children’s lives. But since 2016, when the authorities started placing families in the deportation center, the conditions are worse than ever.

‘You Danish people have to raise your voice’

According to a recent report from The Freedom of Movements Research Collective, the motivational measures haven’t made more people leave Denmark. Instead, they have created “the collective criminalisation of hundreds of people, including children, the vast majority of whom have never been suspected or convicted of any crime.”

Eden agrees with this conclusion.

“Our children are in prison,” she says. “We have to fight for them, because the government and the politicians don’t care. We have to fight for them, and the Danish people must make their voices heard – they have to shut down Sjælsmark.”

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