At first glance, the street sign near Thisted in Denmark’s Jutland Peninsula looks normal. It offers standard directions to drivers, showing that it is just four kilometers to Thisted and three to the nearby Sennels.
But underneath it was a smaller sign in a near-identical style. This sign offered directions to Iraq, which it said was 5317 kilometers away.
And this wasn’t a one-off for Thisted. Another nearby sign featured directions to Syria, which it said lay 4426 kilometers away.
These signs, of course, were not installed by Danish authorities. Instead, they were illegally installed on Friday night by unknown individuals.
And while the signs point to the Middle East, they are, in fact, a reference to something far closer: the six centers for asylum seekers that are located in Thisted. Many of the refugees and migrants in these centers are from Iraq and Syria — and a significant number of Danes would like them to return home.
Although it is unclear who created the signs, in a message on its website, the Danes’ Party — a small political party with links to extreme-right movements – praised their installation, saying that they complemented the party’s own campaign against “non-Western immigration” in Thisted. “The Danes’ Party wants to show the migrants the way back,” party leader Daniel Carlsen told the Local. “That’s why we’ve started a campaign in Thisted to offer locals an alternative to the insecurity that has arisen in Thisted after the arrival of so many migrants.”
Among some mainstream political parties, the signs sparked outrage.
“It’s really, really unsympathetic to hang these kinds of signs up,” Pernille Skipper, a spokeswoman for Denmark’s Red-Green alliance, told Jyllands-Posten, adding that the signs send those fleeing a war zone the message that “we do not want you here.” Marcus Knuth, a spokesman for the governing Liberal Party, said that although his party wanted to reduce the number of asylum seekers in Denmark, the signs sent an “unsavory” and “tasteless” message to refugees and migrants.
Others praised the signs’ message. Ib Poulsen, the deputy mayor of Thisted and a member of the powerful far-right Danish People’s Party, told Ekstra Bladet newspaper that their installation had created a meaningful debate, even if they were illegal. “We have a government who is not taking this seriously,” Poulsen said. “We should have sent [Syrians and Iraqis] back to neighboring countries.”
Denmark had 21,000 asylum seekers register in 2015, a huge increase over previous years. The surge has sparked a remarkable political pushback in a country often portrayed as a socialist utopia by outsiders. The benefits given to refugees were slashed dramatically, and the government took out advertisements in Lebanese newspapers to warn potential asylum seekers to stay away. New laws were put in place to take valuables off of refugees and migrants, and ordinary Danes who have helped refugees and migrants cross the border are facing charges of people smuggling.
Although it is not in government, the Danish People’s Party is viewed as influencing Denmark’s shift against immigration. The party received 21 percent of the vote in the general election last year, becoming the second-largest party in Denmark and providing key parliamentary support for the Liberal Party’s minority government.
The signs pointing to Iraq and Syria did not last long, however. By Saturday, two angry Thisted locals had removed them. “I think it is tasteless and incomprehensible that anyone think that this is funny,” Signe Marquard Ronn, one of the locals who removed the signs, told Jyllands-Posten. “You are allowed to have different opinions, but I do not think this is right.”