Members of an artists’ collective have opened up a unique community centre in Copenhagen to help jumpstart integration for young migrants in Denmark. The city's "Trampoline House" hosts language classes and offers tutoring assistance and career counseling for migrants. The centre — which has become one of the country's few spaces for socialising between migrants and Danish people — is also meant to help end the isolation that many newcomers experience, and to make them feel welcome and supported.
Denmark makes no bones about its reluctance to welcome new refugees. Back in January 2016, the Danish parliament adopted a controversial law giving police the go-ahead to confiscate any belongings of asylum seekers that were worth more than 10,000 krones [equivalent to €1,340]. Previously, Danish lawmakers had also adopted a measure that would reduce the benefits given to asylum seekers by 10%. Another measure upped the amount of time a family would have to wait before qualifying for a family reunification programme, from one to three years.
Despite these measures, meant to discourage newcomers, an estimated 21,000 asylum claims were filed in Denmark in 2015. While this number is much lower than the 163,000 people who migrated to neighbouring Sweden during the same time period, it still places Denmark, which has a population of 5.6 million, on the list of the ten European countries that accept the most refugees in proportion to their population.
Shortly after new refugees and migrants enter Denmark, authorities move them to camps located far outside of the main cities. There, the new arrivals are forced to wait months or sometimes even years for a response to their asylum claim.
Morten Goll, a Danish artist, was sure that it would be in Denmark’s interest to develop a better system to welcome and integrate new arrivals. That’s why, in 2010, he and a collective of activists started visiting camps and meeting the asylum seekers there.
A year later, he launched Trampoline House, a place to bring together Danish people and migrants. Since last year, Trampoline House has also started to help asylum seekers find work placements and to go back to school.
"It’s important to avoid just giving charity and to make sure that everyone is shouldering his or her responsibility”
Most of the refugees who I met in the camps told me that the loneliness and isolation was the hardest part. For some, this had even let to depression and other mental health issues.
We founded the Trampoline House as a space for meeting people as one way to combat the loneliness that so many migrants feel. We received financial support from several foundations to set up this project, but we now depend on donations and crowd-funding. We don’t get any government money.
Cooking workshop at Trampoline House. Photo: Trampoline House Facebook page.
All of the people who come here do so on a volunteer basis, including the asylum seekers. We are all ready to give something back. Some local people give Danish or English lessons, while one of the asylum seekers might lead a cooking class or teach a lesson in Persian. It’s important to avoid just giving charity and to make sure that everyone is shouldering his or her responsibility. Charity never gives people the boost we think it does.
The members of the Trampoline House "Women’s Club”. Photo: Trampoline House Facebook page.
"We want to put asylum seekers in contact with our business partners"
Last year, we created a database of the CVs of the refugees with whom we work. The idea is to put them in touch with our business partners and to help them find work.
Students participate in a CV-building workshop at Trampoline House. Photo: Facebook page of Trampoline House.
We try to organise events where refugees can meet Danish students. Our aim is to connect migrants who want to start studying again with mentors [who can then help to connect the refugees to the wider university system in Denmark]. We open up the site to the public three times a week and we host concerts, parties and exhibitions in order to bring in lots of people. The aim is to bring people together who wouldn’t meet otherwise.
Eli, 26, is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo. He arrived in Denmark two years ago and bounced from one camp to another. He heard about the Trampoline House while he was living in the Sandholm camp, north of Copenhagen. The Trampoline House helped him to start studying again.
“Here, people don’t look at me like an asylum seeker”
Life in the camps was difficult. We had a few Danish lessons but other than that, we didn’t do anything. Even amongst asylum seekers, we didn’t talk much because we were all too stressed. However, after I had been in Denmark a few months, a friend who is also a refugee told me about Trampoline House. He and I took a train to go there the first time. Since then, I’ve been going there almost every week. I don’t feel lonely when I am there and I get to meet welcoming people who don’t just see me as an asylum seeker. I’ve been learning Danish and English at the centre.
Dabce class at Trampoline House. Photo: Trampoline House.
Last year, I was given refugee status for two years with the possibility of renewal. After that, I was at Trampoline House when I met a former student from Borups Højskole, an art school in Copenhagen. With his and Morten's help — who helped me write a cover letter and practise the admissions interview — I got into a Masters programme at this school. It’s a miracle for me. Without their help, I don't think I would ever have been able to study again. I’m the only African in my year. There are only students from Scandinavian countries!
Last September, a far-right party in Denmark created a stir after distributing so-called “anti-migrant spray” in the street. This xenophobic campaign is representative of an increase in anti-migrant sentiment in the country, where anti-immigration political parties have been steadily increasing in popularity.
>> READ ON THE OBSERVERS: Outcry after Danish far-right party hands out “anti-migrant” spray
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