Danish prime minister says sorry to Greenlanders forcibly moved to Denmark

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen apologised in person Wednesday to six Greenlandic Inuits removed from their families and taken to Copenhagen more than 70 years ago as part of an experiment to create a Danish-speaking elite.

Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen on March 9th 2022 says sorry to Greenlanders forcibly moved to Denmark.
Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen on March 9th 2022 says sorry to Greenlanders forcibly moved to Denmark. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

“What you were subjected to was terrible. It was inhumane. It was unfair. And it was heartless”, Mette Frederiksen told the six at an emotional ceremony in the capital.

“We can take responsibility and do the only thing that is fair, in my eyes: to say sorry to you for what happened,” she said.

In the summer of 1951, 22 Inuit children between the ages of five and eight were sent to Denmark, which was Greenland’s colonial power at the time but has since gained autonomy.

The parents had been promised their children would have a better life, learn Danish and return to Greenland one day as the future elite, in a deal between authorities in Copenhagen and Nuuk, the Greenland capital.

In Denmark, the children were not allowed to have any contact with their own families. After two years, 16 of the group were sent home to Greenland, but placed in an orphanage.

The others were adopted by Danish families. Several of the children never saw their real families again.

An inquiry into their fate concluded more than half were very negatively affected by the experiment.

Only six of the 22 are alive today.

“It was a big surprise for me when I realised that there were only six of them left, because they were not that old,” their lawyer Mads Pramming told AFP.

“They told me that the others had died of sorrow,” he added.

The PM’s apology is “a big success for them”, he said, two weeks after they each received financial compensation of 250,000 kroner (33,600 euros).

“First they got an apology in writing, and then the compensation for the violation of their human rights, and now they will have a face-to-face,” with the prime minister, Pramming said.

“Nothing had happened until now and it’s you, Mette, who took the initiative to set up a commission two years ago”, one of the six, Eva Illum, said.

In December 2020, the prime minister offered the six an official apology.

READ ALSO: Denmark to pay compensation to Greenland’s ‘experiment children’

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‘The image speaks for itself’: Greenland PM criticises Danish government

The prime minister of Greenland said on Thursday he regretted the way relations between his autonomous Arctic territory and mainland Denmark had deteriorated following Copenhagen's appointment of a new Arctic ambassador.

'The image speaks for itself': Greenland PM criticises Danish government

“Relations between Denmark and Greenland are not at their best at the moment,” the head of the Greenland government, Mute, told Danish daily Politiken.

Greenland is unhappy about Denmark’s appointment of a new ambassador who has no ties to the region, despite an accord stipulating that Greenland must be consulted on Danish decisions that concern it.

“The procedure reveals what the foreign ministry thinks of us and the way it doesn’t include us, when we are the country’s Arctic region. The image speaks for itself,” Egede said.

Ambassador Tobias Elling Rehfeld, an expert on international law, is not Greenlandic.

Danish Foreign Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen responded to Egede’s criticism by saying Rehfeld’s nomination was in line with other ambassadorial appointments made by his ministry.

“As things stand now, (Greenland’s) foreign policy is still managed by the kingdom of Denmark,” Rasmussen said.

Copenhagen was “trying in many areas to help Greenland play a bigger role in terms of foreign policy”, he added.

Ties between the two have also been strained by the decision of a Greenland MP to make a speech in the Danish parliament in Greenlandic. Some politicians argue that exchanges in the assembly should be solely in Danish. There is no set rule on the matter so parliamentary officials are to meet in June to decide.

Greenland has been autonomous since 1979. The world’s largest island — located in the Arctic some 2,500 kilometres
(1,550 miles) from Denmark — has its own flag, language, culture, institutions and prime minister.

But it relies heavily on a Danish grant, which makes up a quarter of its GDP and more than half its public budget.

Matters concerning currency, the justice system, and foreign and security affairs remain under Denmark’s authority.

At the end of April, the Greenlandic parliament began examining a draft constitution, drawn up in secrecy over four years, which could be the basis for negotiations if the territory sought independence from Denmark.