The Danish government estimates that there are currently some 210,000 Muslims living in Denmark. The first large-scale migration of ‘new minorities’ began to Denmark in the late 1960s, as workers from former Yugoslavia and Turkey came to fill gaps in the labour market. Before that, Denmark was a relatively homogeneous society in terms of language and culture. From the mid-1980s onwards, Denmark became the host country for large numbers of refugees fleeing war in their homeland. They came from Sri lanka and Somalia, as well as Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.
Hostility towards the number of migrants started to grow, and when the Social Democrat-led coalition came to power in 1992, a more restrictive immigration policy was introduced. In 1999, an Integration Act was introduced. It was the first of its kind in the world and the government’s stated intention was to ‘to ensure that newly arrived refugees and immigrants can make the most of their capacities on an equal footing with other citizens of Denmark’. However, some campaign groups accused the government of discriminating against ethnic minority communities. The rising popularity of far-right groups heavily influenced mainstream parties to adopt a tougher line on immigration and asylum issues. In 2001, a right-wing coalition promising tighter immigration controls ended years of dominance by the social democrats. European anti-racism groups have sporadically expressed concern about increasing numbers of racist attacks in Denmark.
In August 2005, a Danish radio station had its broadcasting licence taken away for three months after calling for the extermination of Muslims.
On 30 September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, ostensibly to overcome what the editors perceived as self-censorship reflected in the reluctance of illustrators to depict the Prophet. The cartoons were highly offensive to Muslims because Islam is understood to prohibit graphic depictions of the Prophet and because most of the depictions were extremely derogatory, i.e. by associating him, and by implication all Muslims, with terrorism. In response, Danish Muslim organizations held public protests and spread knowledge of Jyllands-Posten’s publication, and the controversy spread beyond Denmark and across the world. Examples of the cartoons were reprinted in more than 50 countries, sparking further protests including rioting. Much of the outrage was directed against the government of Denmark because of its refusal to suppress the cartoons or to take action against the editors of Jyllands-Posten. Four months after publication, the Jyllands-Posten did finally apologize for offending Muslims but nevertheless defended its right to publish the cartoons. In March 2006, Denmark’s Director of Public Prosecutions upheld the earlier decision not to press criminal charges against the Jyllands-Posten on the basis that the drawings were protected by legislation on freedom of speech and did not violate bans on racist and blasphemous speech. In retaliation, the Islamic Faith Community, an umbrella organization of 27 radical Muslim organizations in Denmark, has lodged a complaint against the state of Denmark with the Office of the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Geneva.
In spring 2007, the selection of a young Danish woman politician of Iranian descent as a potential candidate for parliament, sparked further controversy. Asmaa Abdol-Hamid said she would wear the hijab, if elected to parliament and would refuse to shake hands with men, in line with her religious beliefs. This has caused further intense debate about religious freedom and the acceptance of diversity in Denmark.
Minorities and indigenous peoples in