What is life like for refugee children in Denmark?

October 1, 2022

Ivona Petrova

As of early 2022, over 100 million people are displaced across the world, and the number is rising. Armed conflicts, ethnic violence, fear of persecution, and natural disasters are the most common reasons for them to flee their homes and communities. More than 26 million of those displaced are refugees. Half of them are children.

At Home in the World captures the lives of five refugee children at a Danish Red Cross asylum school. Coming to seek refuge from different countries, they visit the school to learn Danish in hopes of entering the Danish public school system. Few of them are granted residency, others are rejected and sent back. During the year the children’s lives are followed on camera, we see how they interact with their new environment, and with other children, who, like themselves, struggle to adjust to their new lives.

The psychological effects of trauma in child refugees manifest themselves in many ways. Evidence suggests these children suffer from loneliness, depression, PTSD, anxiety, physical pain, and grief. Usually, that results in academic problems, attachment problems, and behavioural difficulties like anger and aggression. In addition, some children are affected by their parents' struggle with trauma from their violent past. This is the case for one of the film’s protagonists:

Ali, a refugee from Afghanistan, bears witness to his father’s struggle with PTSD and hears his screams at night. Ali is haunted by a recurring nightmare which he shares:

"I see five men with knives coming to hurt my dad... and my mom is crying”

Another boy with the fear of losing his father is Magomed. His family fled Chechnya and awaits a decision on his application for residency in Denmark. They left after Magomed’s father was captured and tortured by Russian soldiers, who wrongly accused him of having explosives. The Danish authorities intend to send him back, where he will be imprisoned or executed.

Struggles with mental health and ill family members are only a part of a child refugee’s trouble integrating. Difficulties may lie with the recipient society and the integration practices they receive. A report claims young refugees in Denmark fall behind in areas of education, labour market participation, and health compared to refugee youth in Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Denmark is also the only Nordic country where asylum-seeking children don’t have full access to education. 

Despite hardships, the children in the film persevere. They make the effort to learn Danish, make friends and adjust to life in the school. They get used to a safe environment, where they can open up about their feelings. Slowly, our protagonists adapt to their new lives while they await to be granted residency, and with it, a chance to finally feel at home in the world again.

Watch this months’ Film of the Month “At Home in the World” on THE WHY’s YouTube channel.

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