A clinic has opened in Copenhagen that will only treat illegal immigrants, formally known as undocumented migrants. I spoke to the manager of the clinic to find out more.
Tucked away in the corner of a quiet courtyard off Revenstlowgade beside the central station is a private health clinic. Its clients aren’t wealthy or famous, but you still need to be special to be seen. The clinic only takes in people who – for whatever reason – are illegally resident in Denmark. In fact, it’s the only place in the country where they can be treated.
Vibeke Lenskjold from the Red Cross in Denmark, who runs the clinic, invited the Copenhagen Post to take a look around this Monday. Sitting in the reception of the clinic, she explained that while some politicians were outraged at the opening of a health clinic for illegal immigrants, all the Red Cross in Denmark cared about was that there were people who needed help but weren’t receiving it.
“It’s at the heart of what we do – humanitarian help for people in need. We don’t care who they are, if they need help they must have it,” Lenskjold said.
Monday was only the second day the clinic had been open and so far they have had two patients. One was a pregnant woman who was worried about where she was going to give birth. The other, an elderly Danish man who had been out of the country and was not registered with a doctor. Despite the low turn out, Lenskjold believes more will come.
“After someone has come and visit, they will tell other people that they can trust it. So word of mouth is a very important way to spread the word and make sure people know it’s ok to be here. I believe the first few weeks we’ll only see a few patients and then they will start coming.”
Two weeks ago they called a meeting of leaders from homeless shelters, letting them know about the service and handing out leaflets in sixteen different languages for them to distribute.
“They meet the target group not me. We don’t go on the street to try and talk to them. The other social actors meet them and can give them a flier and tell them what we offer,” Lenskjold said, explaining that while a private clinic may treat whoever they want – regardless of their legal status – they stick to treating patients who come to them.
“We only offer health support that’s why were not out talking to people because then other laws apply to us. We don’t offer them any food or anything – a cup of coffee while they wait but nothing else.”
At the moment only one doctor and two nurses man the clinic during its opening hours, though another doctor will take up residence in the second consultation room within a few weeks. A third room will eventually house either a dentist or a physiotherapist.
The clinic is also building a small laboratory where the staff can test the patients’ blood and urine. And should the patients need any medicine, the doctors can hand it over directly, though Lenskjold hastened to add they didn’t stock anything strong such as morphine.
But not all illegal immigrants live in Denmark, and should one living in Jutland need some care, the trip is both long and expensive. Lenskjold hopes, however, to build a network of doctors across the country to deal with this issue. So far in Copenhagen she has 13 doctors signed up and interest outside the capital is starting to grow.
While the chief of Copenhagen police has told Lenskjold he is not interested in stopping them do their work, there is still an active political voice that believes providing these types of facilities for illegal immigrants will only encourage more to make the trip.
But Lenskjold dismisses this with a quick shake of her head. Experience in Sweden and Norway – both of whom have similar clinics – has shown no increase in illegal immigration after the opening of the clinics. And treating them may even allow them to move on.
“I believe that when people are healthy and feeling well they are able to travel. So if we can’t cure them then we end up having to keep them in Denmark,” she explained.
“Only healthy people are able to act and take action in their own life,” she said before waving us goodbye.