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Danish men prefer Thai women as foreign wives

Tuesday 31st March 2015 8:56pm

Life for Thai women in Denmark not quite a fairy tale

Tough new immigration laws in Denmark, a tougher economic climate, cold weather and stereotyping are some of the challenges facing Thai women in Denmark.

A small business man in Denmark has moved to Thailand while denouncing his home country as 'no place to live' following years of financial struggle during which the Dane and his Thai wife came close to losing their home in Copenhagen. In a week when the Thai economy was voted the 'happiest world economy' to live in, Bernd Jaspersen says that he has 'absolutely no regrets' having already spent 6 months living in Thailand.

The Danish man and his Thai wife, Nan, took a short holiday from Denmark to Thailand early in 2014 after spending five years struggling to make ends meet following the financial crisis in Europe. The turning point in their life came when they met fellow plane passengers at the boarding area Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi Airport for the flight home to Copenhagen. 'It felt like the beginning of a nightmare all over again, my wife and I had the same feeling when we were sitting in the waiting area before boarding the aircraft. We were sitting there looking at all these terribly unhappy people like ourselves also after we had lived for four glorious weeks in Thailand among carefree and happy people, we could both feel it, it was like a sensation, we wanted to cry, it was emotional,' he says.

Thai wife's university degree not accepted

But Bernt's disillusionment with Denmark wasn't born there. It began not long after his wife Nan arrived to live in Copenhagen with him. Bernd ran a small graphic design and packaging business on the outskirts of the Danish capital. 'The first thing was that my wife's Thai university degree was not recognised,' he says. This is a common problem for Thai women arriving in European countries. In worldwide surveys Thai universities do not seem to rank highly and degrees are not recognised in many European countries. 'This is a cause of great hardship to many Thai women in countries such as Denmark and Germany,' says Carla Boonkong, a journalist based in Bangkok who writes extensively on Thai women and international migration from Thailand. 'It is something that needs to be addressed, some commentators in Thailand suggest that the problem is because most Thai degrees are conducted in Thai and then you have the unique nature of Thai culture. But, unfortunately, many Thai women who marry foreigners in countries like Denmark and Germany find it becomes an important issue. Often there is no real alternative but to simply retrain and in the meantime, take whatever employment is available. But I think Thai women should make time to actively research the issue before moving to Denmark. Many Thai universities are recognised and highly regarded all over the world and also have partnerships with foreign universities even in countries such as Denmark and Germany,' she says. 'This is important homework to be undertaken for any Thai woman with a degree marrying a foreigner and thinking of moving to a foreign country.'

Bernd found the problem heartbreaking for his Thai wife. He also found that reaction among fellow Danes to his beautiful and happy new wife disappointed him. 'They were not so welcoming, even some close friends made some talk, it was not so direct something like Danish humour, I was so surprised and inside a little sore about it,' he says. 'I am a man who has always lived in Denmark and I think it was hurtful for me to see my wife treated like the outsider.'

Danish man's ex wife's reaction to his Thai Love

Bernd was married prior to his marriage to Nan and divorced for four years. He paid alimony to his former Danish wife. 'This was not such a big commitment and I was always on speaking terms with her even after I married Nan when I went to Thailand.' However Bernd found that his ex wife was also not very supportive of his decision to marry a Thai woman. 'We have many common friends and I heard that she was not so happy from them, people felt that I had become involved in some bad business, you know. If I could have moved to somewhere else in Denmark it might have been better but I had a property and the business in Copenhagen so this was not something I could do.'

The problems for the Danish man and his new Thai wife living in Denmark were heightened by the economic crisis in 2009. 'It was very hard, never did I see it like that before, in one month or two I was to lose nearly half of my business as these valuable contracts were cancelled. But my wife, she was very strong. When she came to Denmark she could not speak Danish really at all but she even began learning before she left Thailand so after two months only, in Denmark, she was already out to get jobs. Even when Danish people were not so friendly, she was always smiling. She got the first job one evening while out buying groceries and changing money in the shop. She then had three jobs including one as the office cleaner. I will not so easily forget my educated and beautiful Thai wife was cleaning toilets in Denmark. In Thailand, Nan is a clerical officer and team leader. Many of her friends work for the Thai government.'

Lucky break back in Denmark after a Thai holiday

But Bernd had a lucky break. A business friend wanted to buy his property when he returned to Copenhagen in 2014 after his Thai holiday. Bernd and his Thai wife sold up in Denmark last summer and Bernd was able to negotiate a lump sum final settlement to his Danish wife which she was happy to accept. Marriage and divorce laws in Denmark are far more reasonable and practical in the northern European country than in countries such as the United States and even the United Kingdom.

The Danish Thai couple moved permanently to Thailand in September 2014 even though Nan had already attained full residency status already in Denmark. 'I already have my own graphic design and print business here with my own company and my wife is also a director, we have a small house, no swimming pool or anything like that but we have money in the bank. Life is so different and our business is surprisingly good,' he says. 'But, you know, it is early days, we are taking it carefully but we are so happy,' he says.

Growing trend for Scandinavian men to seek Thai wives

Bernd's story highlights a growing trend among men from the Scandinavian countries including Norway, Sweden, Finland and Denmark seeking marriage and relationships in Thailand. The latest research from the University of St Andrews in Sweden released in 2014 shows that Thai women migrating to Scandinavian countries including Sweden has shot up by 44% in the last ten years. The reasons are both social and economic. Research in the United Kingdom in 2013 highlighted self employed men as a key segment of UK men seeking Thai women to marry.

Prostitution and the rural/urban divide for Thai women

Significantly, research has revealed a large divide between these marriage relationships and prostitution in these countries. 'One of the key concerns raised by some groups regarding the influx of these Thai women into Scandinavia is that many Thai women are the victims of human trafficking. The latest research in all countries shows clearly that there is very little relationship between that phenomenon and the phenomenon of Thai women marrying foreigners but you cannot say there isn't an overlap because there is particularly in countries where prostitution is legal such as Denmark, Germany and Belgium. In countries such as Norway, Sweden and Finland there have also been calls to investigate the abuse of Thai women by partners coming from feminist and women groups. All these concerns are valid. For instance there is documented evidence that Scandinavian countries have high incidences of domestic abuse. But what cannot be denied is that in the overwhelming majority of cases these relationships are not only valid and genuine but also very successful,' says Carla Boonkong in Bangkok. 'One of the key factor is whether that Thai women are living in rural and urban areas in these countries. These are two different lifestyles.'

In fact the research from Sweden indicated that most Swedish men with Thai wives live in rural areas. This run contrary to public perception which is often driven by the stereotype of the sexy Thai woman. The rural and urban divide seems to be an issue. 'It should not be so surprising. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that men in rural areas are finding it hard to find marriage partners. This is what happened in Germany and Austria in the the 1960's as their economies became more industrialised and more local women opted for careers over marriage,' says M/s Boonkong.

'One key concern for Thai women living in Scandinavia and Europe is the isolation for those Thai women who do not go out and get involved in the community, where there is an overlap with prostitution and where there is abuse,' says Carla Boonkong. 'This is more likely to occur in urban areas. I think it is a little different in Denmark where prostitution is legal. It is my experience that in countries like Germany, Denmark and also Belgium and the Netherlands that there is more likely to be an overlap where the Thai woman and foreign partner live in urban areas. However this is a very small percentage and the stereotype of the Thai women as a prostitute is in fact, the bigger major issue and threat. Certainly it is not deserved but there is this negative perception that Thai women must do everything to avoid,' she says 'Thai women coming from Thailand from a very strong and deeply held culture into a completely different environment is something that many people are concerned about. They need support primarily from their relationship partners but also from Thai consular officials as well as foreign government agencies and support groups in each country. The encouraging thing is this is happening, while at the same time, Thai women themselves are getting on with the job. Overall it is a great success story,' says Carla Boonkong. 'These are very brave and courageous women.'

Danish men most likely to marry Thai women

In Thailand, figures from the Bangkok Central Marriage Registration office show marriages between Thai women and foreigners from all over Thailand. Latest figures from 2013 show that more men from Denmark registered marriages with Thai women than any other country per capita of population. This record was previously held by Belgian men.

'There is bond between Thailand and Denmark going back to the reign of the famous Thai King Chulalongkorn ,' say Carla Boonkong in Bangkok. 'Thai women are attracted to living in European countries particularly ones with Monarchies such as Thailand and Denmark has such a romantic lore. In Bangkok now we see more Danish men not only visiting Thailand looking for marriage partner or girlfriends but also establishing second homes in Thailand. This is an increasingly popular trend as property in Bangkok and Thailand is an attractive proposition even though there are legal restrictions.'

Forner Pattaya bar girl is a fairy Godmother in Denmark

The worldwide success of the famous Danish TV documentary 'Love on Delivery' produced by famed Danish filmmaker Janus Ketz in 2010 highlighted the growing numbers of young men from a remote area in northern Denmark opting to find Thai marriage partners. The award winning film itself has contributed to the phenomenon as more middle aged and even younger Danish men look for a workable marriage alternative. In the last twenty years in Denmark there is a been a steep rise in foreign marriages with Danish men being twice as likely to look outside Denmark as Danish women. Not surprisingly, women from Thailand are the most popular marriage and relationship partners. In Ketz's documentary film, the fairy godmother of the story turns out to be a former Pattaya bar girl, Sommai, who met a Danish men twenty five years ago at the now notorious seaside city in Thailand famous for being a sex for sale centre. From Denmark, Sommai began a network of marriages between Thai women seeking marriage and a better life in Denmark with Danish men until in the remote seaside area in rural Denmark there are now over 600 Thai brides alone.

Economics and love move Danish men to Thailand

But Bernd Jespersen's analysis of the situation is more pragmatic,economic and yet mysterious. 'The life in Denmark now means that a husband and wife must both work hard simply to survive and pay the bills which are so high. Then you have their growing movement for the government people to tell you this and that and make you pay more and more. It is simply impossible. This is why the people are not happy,' he says. 'I did not dream that someday I would marry a woman from Thailand. But now today it is the best thing for me. It is likely economics and love have moved me in this direction,' he mused from Thailand. 'It's a bit strange, you know.'

Climate for Thai women in Denmark

While the story of Sommai in the Danish TV documentary is a positive one and has been acclaimed worldwide, life for Thai women in Danish urban centres can be a bit different as we have seen from Nan's story. It would be wrong to say that it is wholly negative.

Eve Ostergard is a beautiful young Thai Danish woman whose mother owns a retirement hotel on the outskirts of Copenhagen having arrived in Thailand as a Thai bride thirty five years ago. Eve speaks fluent Danish and Thai and enjoys a semi professional career as a model while traveling all over the world at her own and sometime her mother's expense. She visits Thailand at least once a year. Her mother is a wealthy widow while Eve is a full Danish citizen and leads a privileged life in Copenhagen's trendy and lively Pilestraede district. 'For me being Thai is something unique and wonderful but I love that I live in Denmark. 'There is what you can describe as uneasy mood in the Denmark right now about people coming here to live,' she says. 'I meet up with many Thai women who come here, some make it a great success, only the few decide to return back to Thailand.'

Eve talks about her many friends from Thailand who have arrived in Copenhagen in the last ten years or so. 'It is not so easy as you think for the Thai women in Denmark,' she says. First off, Eve points out that it is quite cold, it's even colder than Germany where Thai women, surveyed by post graduates from Thailand in 2010, identified the weather as the number one drawback. 'There is also so little sunshine compared to Thailand and this makes many Thai women a little sad. But Eve identifies other key concerns for Thai women in Denmark from the experience of family and friends who have made the move from Thailand:

  • Dressing up: In Thailand most young women wear makeup and colourful attractive clothes no matter what their background is or even the occasion. This is particularly true for Thai women from more middle class homes. But in Denmark it is different. Eve explains: 'In Copenhagen, people are quite old fashioned and also have this sort of group think. Fashion here is more understated and more demanding. Some already say Thai women are prostitutes or stuff like that because of what you read in the newspapers and Danish people dress conservatively so a Thai woman in like, very loud clothes and high heels... this is not so good an idea, also clothes are expensive in Denmark but you need to think carefully. Most Thai women coming to Denmark adjust but it makes them sad I think.'
  • Speaking Danish And Danish culture: 'I was born in Denmark, I am a Danish citizen and I speak Danish fluently yet sometimes I think am still not fully accept as the real Dane, this is funny because I feel so much at home here and I like being Danish very much,' Eve admits. 'For a lot of the Thai women coming to Denmark, they must learn how to speak the language and follow some government lessons. I think the some of the Thai women like this because it can make them feel welcome but after a while when they are living here longer, they feel that they are not fully accepted and more so today with the news every day and the far right,' she says. 'For people who do not live in Denmark the people can often appear cold or just not polite, it is quite different for Thailand.'
  • Stay at home Thai wives: Eve tells us she knows many Thai women who thrive in Denmark. In fact, the majority of Thai women are quite successful as is the case in all other European countries. But there are some Thai women who simply want to be stay at home wives and she feels this is a problem. 'In Denmark today, unless you are very rich, most couples must work even if they have children and it can be difficult for some Thai women if they are left at home without friends,' she says. 'In Denmark it is easy to find yourself in this lonely place and I think some Thai women simply get lonely for life and family in Thailand. The Thai women I meet who want to go home to Thailand know they leave behind perhaps bigger money but simply feel happier at home. But this does not happen often as Denmark is a pretty good country and Thai women can make a successful here. And also some Thai women have rich husband. Only when a Thai woman has decided to return to Thailand it is often because she has not been supported by the Danish man and it is broken heart but of course most simply look for a new man.'

Eve admits that she has met Thai women who have worked at prostitution in Denmark particularly in the many Thai massage parlours that are scattered across Copenhagen. She also says that Thai women in the city must be very resilient living in a very close knit community which exists in Denmark. But then there is also the subject of feminism and how Danish women feel about Thai women taking Danish men.

Thai women challenge to new social order in Denmark

'I would consider myself to be a feminist, my mother is the strongest woman I know but many of my Danish friends, who are feminists, talk of all Thai women as easy and the servants of men. It is true and I think that some Danish women looking at the beautiful Thai women see them as a challenge to this new social lifestyle in Denmark that is good for the Danish women. 'I have been to university in Denmark and I meet also many Thai women who have been in university here. I believe in a better world idea for women but I am also practical. I think many people look at Thai women as the man's servant but it is really just Thai culture which teaches people to be of service to others. Thai women are really very strong and many Thai women are natural leaders. This is how I think.'

Thai women more interested in supporting Danish partners

'I think this, maybe it is true that Thai women are more interested in working, supporting the men in their lives if the man is a good man. Thai women are also very interested in getting into business you can see, this kind of thinking is a bit of no no for many Danish women and also some of the Danish men who marry Thai women too. But the Thai women I meet are genuine and really good friends. My mother has many Thai as well as Danish friends and but now thinks also like a Danish women as well as a Thai,' she says. 'But she really still is Thai in her heart and must visit Thailand each year. She helps many Thai women who come here to find a good life here in Denmark.'

However Eve repeats that Thai women are seen as not quite on board when it comes to the feminist ideal in Denmark. 'There are so many Thai women working in the sex business and then there are stories of obedient Thai women who stay at home, this is a picture that some Danes have of Thai women.'

Thai women and hardship in Denmark

In recent years, as well as the cold, living in a foreign culture and in most cases having to find work in Denmark, Thai women have also become the subject of strict new immigrant laws introduced in the Kingdom. The reason for this is a tightening of Danish Immigration laws. This is seen as a response to increased tensions in Denmark regarding Islamist extremism but it is clear that many Danish government officials have interpreted the laws strictly in the case of Thai women arriving Denmark as marriage partners or spouses of Danish men. There is also a vocal feminist and trade union movement who are pushing for a clampdown on prostitution in Denmark as part of huge anti human trafficking campaign which has near universal support among the Danish public. Denmark rightly has some of the most stringent human trafficking laws in Europe introduced in 2001 and some commentator and activists have brought a discussion on the increase in Thai women living in Denmark into the debate. 'Of course there is a real requirement for effective laws to stamp out human trafficking. Thai women are often the victims of such crimes and while they represents a very tiny minority of Thai women arriving in Denmark it is all very real for the innocent Thai woman who discovers she has to strip naked on her first day's work in Denmark when it she finds out she is to end up working as a prostitute. I have spoken to Thai women who have really experienced this. But is also wrong to perpatrate the lie that all Thai women in Denmark are prostitutes, this is quite another injustice,' says Carla Boonkong.

M/s Boonkong points out that Denmark is quite a mature and old fashioned society where ideas can take hold and are not so easy to shake off. 'While it may not be said openly, the indirect message that all Thai women are easy women or conform to a stereotype is harder to shake off. The only answer and the road most Thai women take, is to work harder and put forward their true character. But can you imagine how hard this is in a foreign, cold country so far from warm and sunny Thailand? This is what Thai women are facing and they need the strong support of the Danish partner or husband.'

More hostile environment for Thai women

Bernd Jacobsen endorses this view 'When my wife first came to Denmark she loved it very much. It was like the picture postcard for her, you know, but when my business was hard and she also had to work so hard, she found it was so much hard work and she was down hearted. We did not have so much time to go to a Thai temple or meet any other Thai women so maybe this was the mistake that I made. But my wife was very successful and worked very hard. She can speak Danish, perhaps not fluently, but quite well now. Its just the standard of life is better for us two right now in Thailand than it was in Denmark.'

Association with sex industry in Denmark

'For better or worse Thai women have become associated with the sex industry in Copenhagen and other urban centres,' says Carla Boonkong in Bangkok. 'But I admit that there is some problem with Thai women and girls being trafficked to Thailand for sex, the other problem is that this has caused the image problem for Thai women in Denmark.' Prostitution is legal in Denmark as in other European countries. Eve Ostergard confirms this. 'I have seen women from Thailand living in Copenhagen take jobs in the Thai massage parlours and it was like just another job,' she says. 'I have one or two friends like this, to them honestly, it does not seem like such a big deal.' Eve also suggests that some of these women had come to Thailand as wives of Danish men. She says that, in some cases, the Thai women are living apart from their Danish partners but in other cases they are still together. Carla Boonkong objects saying that this gives a wrong and dangerous impression. 'I haven't any research for Thai women in Denmark but I have for Germany where prostitution is also legal. I would safely say that 95% of Danish Thai relationships have nothing whatsoever to do with prostitution and the divorce rate is far lower than normal marriages in both Denmark and Germany.'

Danish social services a support for Thai women

It has to be pointed out that Denmark has one of the most robust and practical social services regime in the world. This can work for the benefit of Thai women who make to move to Denmark as Thai wives or marriage partners. This support, together with the new immigration requirements, means Danish Thai relationships are quite regulated and scrutinised so that it may well quite a good thing for Thai women who find themselves in an abusive situation according to Carla Boonkong. 'I would say clearly that any Thai women who comes from Thailand to marry a Danish man and finds herself working in prostitution is likely to be a victim of abuse,' she says. But she also points out that surveys in all European countries, in particular in Finland and Sweden, suggest that any overlap between prostitution and Thai women married to European and Scandinavian men is miniscule and more the exception than the rule. She accepts however that it does exist and that there may be cases of Thai women working in the industry in order to fulfill their traditional cultural role of providing for families in Thailand. She also says she welcomes moves by the Thai government to provide assistance to Thai woman living in foreign countries and any moves to prevent the abuse of Thai women.

Some positives of Thai women in Denmark

As Eve Ostergard's mother's story indicates, many Thai women are successful in Denmark. 'I think many Thai women are encouraged because even though it is hard and a little inward thinking, Denmark is a fair country where someone who works hard and understands how to provide a good service can be successful.

Even the lack of sun can have its benefits,' says Bernd Jaspersen now living in Thailand. 'When my wife returned home to Thailand, her family and cousins were impressed because she looked whiter. This was because she had such little sunshine during the Danish winter and even though she has not white skin, the Danish cold weather gave her the whiter complexion,' he laughs. 'So now Nan wants to make sure we go back to Denmark every year for a holiday, I have no problem with this.' However Bernd is adamant that Denmark is a place that was less than welcoming for his Thai wife. 'I was surprised and disappointed about how my wife was treated in my home country. And also how I was made feel by some people, it was not pleasant, I think but more so for my wife.'

Carla Boonkong does not quite agree. 'I Think the Danes are very like the British. It is an old and very proud nation where foreign people are expected to adapt by most local people but the Danish government and people are very supportive of Thai women who come from Thailand through the correct channels. Bernd has the last word: 'Yes my wife was supported and I suppose decently treated on this one level but it is when I begin to see Denmark through her eyes and the little things that happen all the time and the hardship that we lived with there. It was such a difference for the ways we were treated and live in Thailand today.'

Islamic extremism impacts Thai women in Denmark

In the last ten years, Denmark has seen the growth of a right wing movement largely in response to Islamic extremism and in particular the attacks in Denmark related to cartoons of the prophet Mohammed as well a high levels of immigration. 'This sentiment has grown and again it is a similar trend to the United Kingdom except in Denmark the blowback from Islamic attacks and tensions created has been stronger,' says Carla Boonkong.' The recent attack in Copenhagen underlines and underlines this and links it directly to the debate in western countries regarding free speech and the conflict with Muslim countries.'

The result has been tough new immigration laws which go even further than the laws in the United Kingdom. 'These laws are aimed at the Muslim community and its growth, of course this is not openly admitted,' says Carla Boonkong 'But it places more stringent regulation on Danish men planning to marry Thai women.'

The new laws involve the following key provisions:

  • Age 24 and over: Danes are prohibited from marrying foreigners under the age of 24. The law also prohibits Danish men under 24 years from marrying foreign brides. 'This law is designed to combat arranged marriages which are quite common in the Muslim community,' says Carla Boonkong. 'The law, as part of a range of measures, has been effective but has also come in for strong criticism from both the EU and UN. It really does not impact Thai women as most are over this age in any event. It is the climate that is being created that is the problem.'
  • Financial independence: This is similar to the law in the United Kingdom but it requires Danish Thai couples to prove their financial ability to maintain themselves.
  • Requirements to identify with Danish culture: These requirements include a training course for new immigrants and a requirement to learn the Danish language and facets of Danish culture and history. It also calls for Thai women coming to Denmark to play an active part in the community. 'Again on the surface, no problem for Thai women except that it creates another hurdle for a Thai woman emigrating to a foreign land and culture. But many Thai women are already very interested in embracing a new culture. I think on the whole that the laws should not put off many Thai women. It's just that they are caught in the crossfire as Denmark comes to grips with a wave of immigration in particular from Muslim countries in Asia.'

Background to tensions in Denmark

The background to the current immigrant tensions in Denmark is the huge rise in non western immigration into Denmark in the last thirty years which has seen 8% of the population represented by immigrant communities. This has been exacerbated by Islamic extremism and events since in 9/11. In particular, there has been a hardening of attitudes in Denmark against immigration and against inflows from Muslim countries.

This has been directly attributed to the publication of cartoons by Danish media depicting the prophet Mohammed in 2005 and the virulent reaction from Muslim countries throughout the world against Denmark. This was followed by a number of plots by Muslim extremists to murder the Danish cartoonists which were blocked by Danish police. However in 2015 the tensions resurfaced after the Paris attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine (which gained notoriety from republishing the Danish cartoons in the first place). Weeks later, Copenhagen was the subject of another terrorist attack in which two people were killed including a Danish filmmaker and a Jewish security guard. 'Danish people are very strong about the right to western values and the absolute right to free speech, it is quite pronounced and even more strongly held than in countries like the United Kingdom. No UK media have produced these cartoons, but in Denmark, there is strong feeling among the population and this has been translated into political support and power. One of the contributing factors for this is Denmark's' PR (proportional representation) voting system which ensures that smaller parties are represented in parliament,' explains Carla Boonkong.

DPP - Danish People's party and immigration reform

Bernd Jespersen, even though he is married to a Thai woman, admits that he has in the past, voted for the Danish People's party. Amazingly he also claims he may vote for the DPP in the future. 'Yes I feel strongly about this right to free speech, it is also my business you know. I think I might still vote DPP but it is the sentiment that marriage to foreigners is something wrong that worries me, I think there should be some more consideration but I think most Danish people agree with me.'

The Danish People's party is a populist right wing Danish party that has become kingmaker in Denmark's political arena in the last ten years garnering up to 15% of the vote and which has managed to have anti immigrant legislation introduced by successive Danish governments. The party is led by Pia Kjaersgaard, a woman and former Danish social worker. Pia says that the DPP was founded primarily because there are too many immigrants into Denmark. She readily admits that in today's political environment that she has become very powerful in Denmark: 'I am very powerful,' she recently told the BBC in London, 'but I am also just a housewife and mother.'

Threat to Thai women in Denmark

'This is very similar to the United Kingdom and UKIP and we see the same situation there with this UK man called Nigel Farage,' says Carla Boonkong. 'Thai women represent only 5% of annual immigration into Denmark and they are not really the target of these laws but they have, unfortunately, become the object of them, as many instances show, when the Danish immigration authorities enforce these new laws. Also the irony that many of the Danish men, with Thai wives, happen to support the DPP.

But really Denmark is still a very good country for Thai women and they continue to come,' says M/s Boonkong. 'I think Denmark is a little like Thailand so that people are quite proud of their country but right now in Denmark there is the feeling that the country is under threat. It is like an identity crisis and a social one too.'

Immigration requirements in Denmark for Thai women

Most Thai women arriving in Denmark are involved in relationships with Danish men. The new immigration points system does not actually apply to these situations but many of the other immigration reforms do. In fact, Bernd Jacobsen, who surprisingly still supports the DPP in Denmark, also supports the strict new immigration regime. 'I think as the Danish husband of a Thai woman, I would like to see Thai women treated well by their husbands living Denmark. As far as I can see, these new laws put more responsibility in the hands of Danish men to provide for their Thai wives coming to live in Denmark. This is the right thing, surely. I have no problem with this and many of the other good Danish men out there will also say this. Our decision to live in Thailand is not anything to do with changes in the law. We are thinking of the atmosphere we were living in Denmark and it is this that I am moving away from, it is economics also,' he explains. 'It is perhaps true that with good strong laws like this, Danish men with Thai wives will live in a better Denmark.'

New immigration requirement for Danish Thai wives

The new immigration requirements for Danish men seeking to bring a Thai woman or spouse as a wife or cohabiting partner involve common sense but strict requirements. This also applies to Danish women seeking to bring in foreign partners from outside the EU and Nordic countries except that nearly 75% of such immigration into Denmark involve foreign women and Danish men. This form of immigration is part of the family unification requirement. It has been tightened considerably for foreigners living in Denmark seeking to bring in spouses aiming to drastically reduce immigration into Denmark. The following are the provisions applicable to Danish citizens bringing Thai wives or life partners into Denmark permanently:

  • Danish Citizenship or 26 years: The sponsoring Danish man must either be a full Danish citizen born and resident in Denmark or residing in Denmark for over 26 years in order to sponsor a Thai wife, marriage partner or spouse.
  • Aged 24 years: Both sponsor and immigrant must be over 24 years of age.
  • Active commitment to Danish society: Both the sponsor and immigrant spouse must commit to being active in ensuring that the applicant immigrant (Thai women) learns the Danish language and integrates into Danish society.
  • Danish language: The Thai woman must pass a prescribed examination showing that Danish is being used as a second language within six months of being granted residence in Denmark.
  • Financial support: The sponsor (Danish man) and applicant immigrant (Thai woman) must be able to support themselves while living in Denmark. This requirement is not as stringent as the recently introduced income requirements in the United Kingdom except in Denmark there is an additional bank guarantee requirement. The provisions state that, in most cases, it will be acceptable if the sponsor has not been the recipient of benefits under the social welfare laws in Denmark for a period of three years prior to the application being made.
  • Accommodation: The sponsoring Danish man or woman must demonstrate that he has suitable accommodation and facilities in order to provide housing for both himself/herself and the immigrant.
  • Bank collateral requirement: The sponsor or Danish man is required to post bank backed collateral or financial guarantee to the value of DKK 52,5000 or $7,500 approx (2015) as security towards the local municipal authorities. This relates to any public assistance that may be paid to the immigrant or Thai spouse (Thai women). 'This is very unusual and is effectively a short term tax on people marrying a foreign spouse,' says Carla Boonkong. However the financial guarantee can be repaid to the sponsor in stages or in full if the Thai woman or spouse is granted full residency or passes a series of examinations in the Danish language.
  • Full financial responsibility: Even if the Danish man and Thai woman are not legally married but cohabiting, the Danish man or partner must assume full responsibility for supporting the Thai woman while living in Denmark.
  • Fully resident in Denmark: The Danish sponsor or spouse must be fully resident in Denmark. This has implications, say for instance, for a Danish man now living abroad or indeed in Thailand and thinking about returning to Denmark. 'This is something I do not like at all and it is not fair to genuine Danish people,' says Bernd Jacobsen. 'But I guess you cannot just pick and choose, if we decide to return to Denmark I trust that there will not be a problem as Nan already has full residency in Denmark. We are not scroungers but in the back of mind it is a little worrying,' he says. It is the same sentiment that has been expressed by many UK citizens living in Thailand with Thai wives who have found that their Thai wives are no longer automatically entitled to normal supports available to UK citizens such as National Health (NHS) services.
  • Domestic abuse exclusion:There is a provision excluding Danish men or women from sponsoring a spouse, wife or partner if the Danish citizen and resident has been convicted in the last ten years of an offence involving violence or abuse against a former spouse.
  • Child abuse exclusion: There is also provision excluding a Danish citizen or resident from sponsoring a spouse or marriage partner with children where the Danish citizen has been convicted of an offense involving violence or abuse of a child under the age of 18 years. This provision applies to both parties to the application and it explicitly states that family reunification of a child from a foreign country in such circumstances will be prohibited even if the child has no parents in that country. While the provision is broad and clear cut, it does provide for relief in exceptional circumstances where the offences resulted from mental illness or some other condition if the offender has been deemed cured.

Thai woman wins right to return to Denmark

While the atmosphere in Denmark has become more tense there is a feeling that the Thai community and Thai women are more welcome although the tough new immigrant laws have made the prospect of living in Denmark with Danish man certainly more difficult and demanding.

In fact, the plight of Thai women in Denmark was highlighted in 2013 when a Thai woman named Suthida Nielsen and her 8 years old daughter Im were deported from Denmark to Thailand despite having lived in the country legally for four years. Suthida's husband, a Danish citizen and resident, died of cancer in 2012.

Despite high profile publicity and a campaign to prevent their deportation, the mother and daughter were eventually deported back to Thailand. The Danish immigration service had ruled that the ties of the Thai mother and daughter to Thailand were stronger than they were to Denmark following the death of Suthida's Danish husband. This was despite the fact that Im, her daughter, spoke fluent Danish, attended school and was said to be fully integrated in to Danish society. The Danish immigration authorities vigorously pursued the deportation though several appeals and court hearings until on November 10th 2013, the mother and daughter were actually deported back to Thailand.

However the story had a happening ending. Following massive public reaction against the stance of the immigration authorities and the courts, a change was retroactively introduced to make it impossible for permanent residency in such situations to be rescinded in the event of the death of the Danish spouse or husband as in this case. In January 2014, Suthida and Im were met by supporters and a limousine organised by enthusiastic supporters from their home town of Aabybro upon their return to Denmark at Aalborg Airport.

Lesson Suthida's Danish fairy tale for Thai women

Caral Boonkong thinks this tells us three things about Thai women in Denmark:

  • 'The Danish authorities vigorously pursued the case. It shows us how Thai women and their families are caught in the crossfire of the draconian new immigration laws designed to combat a bigger problem, which is the threat that Denmark faces from a massive wave of non EU immigration and the emergence of Islamic fundamentalism.'
  • 'What it also showed was the goodwill in Denmark towards the Thai woman and her daughter and I think this is genuine. Thai women entering Denmark as immigrants are happy to integrate and are involved in committed relationships with Danish citizens. We should not forget this. There number, as in the Unite Kingdom, represents 4 - 5% of the overall immigration issue. In the end of the day it showed that Danish people are fair minded.'
  • 'Thai women are vulnerable without the support of their Danish spouses or marriage partners. They are not represented by any political group and frankly their plight does not make particularly good politics. Many feminist groups in Scandinavian countries point out the vulnerability of Thai women albeit in an effort to thwart the movement of Thai women to foreign countries but it is still a valid point. It was so heartwarming to read this story because, before this, many other Thai children and their mothers had been removed back to Thailand.' Figures available show that in 2010 alone nearly 100 Thai children were repatriated under similar rulings before the change to the law in Denmark.

Differentiation of Thai women is difficult

Most commentators agree that the increasingly restrictive immigration laws in Denmark are designed to protect what Danish people perceive to be the homogeneity of the country. Denmark in the last sixty years has prided itself on being a 'socialist utopia' combining elements of free market economics with strong social support services. It is similar to the United Kingdom although it is much smaller and its response to immigration is designed to reduce the surge in immigration from non european countries over the last thirty years.

A 2013 report in the Copenhagen Post showed that more Danish people died in the first three months of 2012 than were born but this shortfall was made up for by an increase in immigration. The report quoted Bent Greve, professor of social science at Roskilde University: 'It is probably a reflection of the fact that people are worried about their careers and don't think it's possible to have both a job and children, but it's surprising and paradoxical that so few people want children because, compared to the rest of the EU, we have some of Europe's best facilities for caring for them.'

Carla Boonkong understands this: 'Denmark like other European countries with a heightened social welfare system and economic development is seeing more women opt out of marriage. It is a similar trend that we see in Japan and now even in South Korea, the answer that some Danish men grasp is to find a relationship with a Thai woman. This is a real social movement.

However Carla sees a problem for Thai women differentiating this form of immigration from overall immigration into Denmark. 'When a Danish citizen resident in Denmark, many from families who have lived in the country for hundreds if not thousands of years seeks a personal relationship with a foreign woman, isn't this somewhat different to refugees or recent immigrant seeking family reunification?'

This is sensitive territory. 'So far European governments and the UK in particular have been happy to put a freeze to the trend of their citizens seeking Thai wives or partners, which is frankly seen as politically incorrect, by lumping it with overall immigration. Many Danish men and UK men will tell you that government official are rather less welcoming of Thai women immigrating into Denmark or the UK than normal immigrants,' she says.

Bernd Jacobsen agrees. 'I think that a Danish citizen who has lived in Denmark for many years should have no problem with finding a wife from a foreign country. The new laws in Denmark go some of the way to that idea but it is the people working in the government that are not all that welcoming to the Thai women, this is what I feel. It is not racism for a Danish man to want and expect his wife to be given better treatment, I think? I mean how can he be a racist in the first place when he is marrying a Thai woman, it is just sensible.'

Thai women No. 1 for Danish men

In parallel with the rise of immigration from Muslim countries into Denmark there has been the the steady growth in Thai women moving to Denmark as love and marriage partners to Danish men. The figures are impressive. It is now estimated that the population of Thai people in Denmark is nearly 20,000 with over 17,000 Thai women.

'There is a growing a successful Thai community in Denmark,' says Eve Ostergard. 'I am happy to be a Dane, I even love everything that is so normal about living in Denmark,' she laughs, 'You have to live in Denmark to know this.' Eve is part of a growing and settled Danish Thai community that has arisen in Denmark since the 1970's when Thai women first began marrying Danish men in increasing numbers. However it is since 2000, and more particularly the last ten years, that has seen an upsurge as more Danish men opt for foreign wives or love partners. Figures from a survey conducted by the Copenhagen Post, a leading Danish newspaper, show that for every Danish woman marrying a foreigner, there are two Danish men and it appears that Danish men prefer women from Thailand more than any other country. What makes Thai women so attractive to Danish men?

Some of the people in this story gives us the answer but our Bangkok based commentator Carla Boonkong again sums it up. 'Thai women and also the Danish men that marry them are trying to build a relationship often against the odds or the prevailing political climate or social structures. Again it is like the Danish fairy tale, they are winning because the heart is good. Yes these relationships are often about the money and the economics but the most important thing is that they are more about Love and I can see already that most Danish people know this.'

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Thai women living in Denmark subject to stricter new laws
Danish man with Thai wife has moved to Thailand. Increasing numbers of Danish men are marrying Thai women but have become subject stricter immigration laws in Denmark. What can Thai women planning to live in Denmark expect?
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