Nearly a year after the influx of migrants into Europe reached its peak, the repercussions can now be felt in thousands of classrooms across the continent as a new school year begins.
Whereas most other schools are focused on assimilating migrant children, one Danish school in the city of Aarhus has decided to separate them. The idea has drawn criticism from human rights advocates who question the legality of segregating children based on their ethnicity.
Many countries provide separate schooling for newcomers in efforts at quicker assimilation. In special "international classes" in Germany, for example, migrant and refugee children receive intensive language training in an attempt to move them into normal German classrooms as soon as possible.
The Danish school's approach, however, is somewhat different because it was not originally designed to integrate migrant children better. Instead, it seeks to allow children to avoid classes with more migrants than ethnic Danes, according to the Jyllands-Posten newspaper, which first reported the story. There are now four classes for migrant children and three mixed classes in which the ratio between migrants and ethnic Danes is equal. The policy does not only apply to refugees or children born abroad, but also to pupils who grew up in Denmark but have parents who migrated from abroad.
The case of the Aarhus school is considered isolated. About 25 percent of the school's pupils were either migrants or the children of migrant parents in 2007, but that number has since risen to 80 percent -- a development which is mostly unrelated to the recent influx of refugees into Europe.
Some critics of the plan say it reflects a deeper trend within a society that has grown opposed to more immigration. Denmark made headlines last year with a law that allowed police officers to seize valuables from refugees as a way to help defray the costs of hosting the new arrivals — many from war-ravaged countries such as Syria and Iraq. Opponents of such policies say that Denmark is increasingly isolating itself and portraying the country as unwelcoming to refugees and others. The number of refugees coming to the country has decreased significantly as a result.
"Sorting students by ethnicity, nationality, and religions violates Danish law and the international conventions which Denmark has signed," Jette Møller, the president of the nongovernmental organization SOS Against Racism, said.
"This may give the students in the four all-non-Western-background classes the impression that they are considered unworthy of attending the classes with majority Danes," said Møller, who also emphasized that the school was considered among the nation's best.
The school headmaster has rebutted such criticism, saying the measures were necessary to prevent ethnic Danes from leaving the institution.
"At first glance what we do might be perceived as segregation, but I will argue, that it is the opposite. All our students have equal access to A-levels, and all students have equal access to honors classes and special services," said Yago Bundgaard, the headmaster of the school.
"This is our way of actually preventing segregation because [it] will help us [to keep ethnic Danes] enrolled in our school and make our school more diverse," said Bundgaard.
This post has been updated with comments by Yago Bundgaard and Jette Møller.