Last Updated: Friday, 28 August 2015, 14:50 GMT

World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Denmark : Overview

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 2007
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, World Directory of Minorities and Indigenous Peoples - Denmark : Overview, 2007, available at: [accessed 28 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Kingdom of Denmark consists of the mainland of the Jutland Peninsula and the islands which constitute one-third of its territory. Its only land frontier is with Germany, to the south. The two Danish external territories are Greenland and the Faroe Islands.


Main languages: Danish, Greenlandic, Faroese, German

Main religions: Lutheran (95%), other Protestant and Roman Catholic (3%), Muslim (2%).

Minority groups include 55,600 Turks (1%), 17,400 former Yugoslavs (0.3%), Asians, Africans, Inuit and Faroese (data: Statistics Denmark, 2006).

The Faroe Islands are 18 islands in the North Atlantic between Iceland and Scotland, inhabited by 48,183 Faroese.

Three-quarters of the immense land surface of Greenland is covered by permanent ice and unsuitable for permanent settlement. The majority of the island's 56,969 population is Inuit.

Denmark is mostly inhabited by ethnic Danes. Very few Faeroese or Greenlanders have settled in mainland Denmark despite their status as Danish citizens. Small numbers of Germans, Jews, Roma, Poles and Hungarians, on the other hand, have been long established and are substantially assimilated. In the 1960s an economic expansion required more labour than the nation could supply, and 'guest workers' (gæstearbejdere) made their way into Denmark. Between 1960 and 1972, Denmark recruited industrial guest workers, mainly from Turkey, Yugoslavia and Pakistan. The country currently operates restrictive asylum laws, carrier sanctions, fingerprinting and the safe-third-country principle. Denmark (along with the United Kingdom and Ireland) has opted out of the common asylum policy of the European Union. Recent reports suggest that the introduction of these stricter measures and opt-out provisions in 2001-2 has led to skewed burden-sharing, with applications for asylum falling in Denmark but increasing in neighbouring Sweden and Norway.


During the Viking period (ninth-eleventh centuries), Denmark was a great power based on the Jutland Peninsula, the Island of Zealand and what is now southern Sweden. Viking raids brought Denmark into contact with Christianity. In the early twelfth century, Denmark became a separate ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The Reformation was introduced in 1536 and Denmark quickly became a predominantly Lutheran state, which it remains. Denmark's current boundaries are the result of centuries of political conflict and cooperation. In the fourteenth century, Queen Margrethe I succeeded in uniting Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, the Faroe Islands, Iceland and Greenland under the Danish crown. Sweden and Finland left the union in 1520 and Norway in 1814. Iceland remained in a 'personal union' under the Danish crown until 1918 and finally became independent in 1944. Meanwhile, the present border with Germany mostly dates back to the Dano-Prussian War of 1864. At this time, Denmark was forced to cede Schleswig-Holstein to Prussia. Today, Denmark is a constitutional monarchy and a member of the European Union.


The Faroe Islands and Greenland are self-governing communities within the Danish State. Home rule was introduced in 1948 and 1979 respectively. These home-rule arrangements are not based on ethnic or linguistic criteria. Accordingly, the populations of these territories are not officially recognized as national minorities. In contrast, for historical reasons, the German minority in Denmark is characterized as a national minority.

Denmark ratified the Council of Europe's Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities on 22 September 1997 and it entered into force on 1 February 1998. Since that time, Denmark's minority rights provisions have undergone two monitoring cycles under the Framework Convention. Denmark has declared that the provisions of the Framework Convention apply only to the German population of South Jutland and have no wider application. This position has been criticized by the Advisory Committee of the Framework Convention who are concerned by its exclusion of Greenland Inuit, Faroese and Roma minorities.

In 2003, Denmark passed the Act on Ethnic Equal Treatment (Act No. 374 of 28 May 2003). This Danish legislation, reflecting the principles of Articles 4 and 6 of the Framework Convention, provides additional safeguards against discrimination on the grounds of race or ethnic origin in a number of social settings. A further positive development has been the establishment of the Danish Institute for Human Rights along with its Complaints Committee for processing cases and providing opinions on whether there have been contraventions of the prohibition against discrimination. Nevertheless, controversy regarding racism and xenophobia remain as the recent Danish cartoons case demonstrates.

Current state of minorities and indigenous peoples

In June 2005, the Danish parliament passed a new law on decentralization, the Law on Regions. The law, which will come into effect in 2007, abolishes a number of administrative districts and establishes five large administrative regions. The law aims to improve the implementation of subsidiarity within Denmark. The new law was preceded by heated political debates, not least the argument that subsidiarity would seem to be more effective in smaller regions rather than the five large regions proposed. The new region of Southern Denmark, which is home to the German minority in Denmark, caused particular concern amongst this community as it was feared this would decrease the number of posts available to them. The election to the regional councils which took place in November 2005, however, did not appear to have any deleterious effect on German representation.

On 30 September 2005, the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published 12 cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed, ostensibly to overcome what the editors perceived as self-censorship reflected in the reluctance of illustrators to depict the Prophet. The cartoons were highly offensive to Muslims because Islam is understood to prohibit graphic depictions of the Prophet and because most of the depictions were extremely derogatory, i.e. by associating him, and by implication all Muslims, with terrorism. In response, Danish Muslim organizations held public protests and spread knowledge of Jyllands-Posten's publication, and the controversy spread beyond Denmark, and across the world. (for a full account, see Denmark's Muslims).

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