How does it feel not to know if you can stay in the country you've fled to? How is it to fear for your children's future? What is life like in temporality? 

These are some of the questions 'Temporality' sheds light on.

The people in the project have all fled from different parts of the world in hopes of obtaining protection, security, and a better future. What they all have in common is experiencing or having experienced a life marked by temporariness and the many worries that come with it. 

The project tells a story of powerlessness and uncertainty, but also of inner strength, resilience, and dreams.

'Temporality' was carried out in collaboration with journalist Sara Nora Koust and is part of the research project Boundary Work - a collaboration between the Danish Red Cross, DRC Danish Refugee Council, and the Centre for Advanced Migration Studies (AMIS), Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen.

About Boundary Work 

Boundary Work is the most comprehensive study of the consequences of the paradigm shift in Danish immigration and integration legislation to date. The project focuses on how the changed conditions affect refugees as well as volunteers and caseworkers who help refugees establish themselves in Denmark.

With the paradigm shift and other changes in Danish immigration and integration legislation in the period 2015-2019, decades of focus on integration have been replaced by a goal of increased self-sufficiency and temporary residence for refugees in Denmark. New initiatives followed, such as stricter requirements for permanent residency and a new temporary protection status, where residence permits can be revoked, even if changes in the home country are not "fundamental, stable, and lasting." 

Overall, the immigration authorities' ability to revoke or deny the extension of residence permits was strengthened through the legislative changes. In contrast to earlier practices, all forms of asylum are now granted with a view to temporary residence, and most refugees can only apply for permanent residency after a minimum of eight years in Denmark.

Renas, 35 years old, and Laila, 35 years old, fled from Syria

When the news on the radio reports about yet another Syrian family having their residence permit revoked, it arouses great nervousness in Renas. Together with his wife Laila and their children, they fled eight years ago from the war in Syria. Throughout this time, the family has lived with temporary residency – a condition that gives rise to daily worries for the couple. They have created a safe home in Holbæk, which they are terrified of losing. 

In Denmark, Renas has become a trained bicycle mechanic and now works at an aluminum factory in Tølløse. Laila wishes she could contribute to the family's finances to the same extent, but a herniated disc she suffered from a few years ago means she can only work a few hours a week in a flex job. The work injury and fewer hours at work create unrest for Laila as she is afraid of what it will mean for her residency in the future. The many worries associated with the family's uncertain future have manifested physically in Laila.

"I have a lot of stress, and when I have stress, I feel very nauseous, and my head hurts," she says.

Renas and Laila dream of obtaining permanent residency and one day being able to afford to buy a house. But above all else, their wish is to see their children grow up in safe and familiar surroundings without having to undergo yet another major life upheaval. 

Alexandra, 23 years old, fled from Ukraine 

In September 2022, Alexandra fled by car from the Russian forces that had surrounded the city of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine. In the car were also her friend, her friend's boyfriend, a dog, and three abandoned kitten that Alexandra had rescued from a dumpster in Mariupol.

In Denmark, Alexandra met both Danes and Ukrainians, who helped her establish a new life. The thought of returning home does not seem like a realistic scenario for Alexandra in the coming years.

"There are many people from the eastern area of Ukraine who have nowhere to return to," says Alexandra about the massive destruction in her hometown of Mariupol.

The special law for displaced Ukrainians has been extended until March 2025. After that, it is uncertain what will happen to Alexandra's residence permit. The uncertain situation makes it difficult to make plans for her youth, Alexandra explains, who currently has a cleaning job to pay the rent.

"You try mentally to plan something, but you still have in the back of your mind that tomorrow everything could change."

In July, Alexandra is expecting a child, whom she is looking forward to bringing into the world and raising with her boyfriend. And she hopes it can be in Denmark.

Ashkan, 22 years old, Fled from Iran 

"The worst thing you can do to a person is to put them somewhere and say 'okay, you have to wait, and we don't know for how long'," says Ashkan. 

He finds himself at the Hviding Asylum Center south of Ribe. It's not the first time Ashkan faces an uncertain future. At just 16 years old, he fled from Iran with his brother and ended up in Denmark but was denied his residence permit after two years. He had to move to the Kærshovedgård Departure Center for rejected asylum seekers, where he ended up spending the next 3,5 years. 

"It feels like I've wasted my time and youth. From 18 to 22 are probably the best years you have. That's when you should figure out who you want to be, what you stand for, and what your future should look like. During that time, I've just been sitting at Kærshovedgård – a place where you're not allowed to work, not allowed to study, you're allowed to do nothing. It feels wasted," says Ashkan.

After having his residence permit case reopened, Ashkan has moved back to the Hviding Asylum Center.

"My dream is to have a life with stability and no stress. Maybe it's a bit too optimistic to have no stress; there will always be stress. But just being able to sleep well at night and not think about what's going to happen."

Ashkan is still waiting for a response from the Refugee Appeals Board.

Hanadi, 59 years old, fled from Syria

"I always believed that I was a strong woman capable of handling anything. But when you're put under such immense pressure, you eventually break down. It feels like a knife in the chest," says Hanadi. 

About two years ago, Hanadi, her husband, and their two sons received a letter from the authorities stating that their temporary residence permit would not be extended. Even though they weren't the only Syrian family in that situation, it hit them as an unexpected shock. 

"The very thought of having to leave again was tough. Where should we go? For 10 years, we've built a new life, and in five minutes, everything is gone," says Hanadi. 

But Hanadi and her family didn't give up. After a lengthy process, Hanadi and her family finally regained temporary residency. Although the relief was immense, the two years without residency have left deep scars on Hanadi, who still struggles with constant worry about the family's future. 

Today Hanadi works part-time in a kindergarten in the kitchen. Both her sons are well into their studies, and the family is closely knit. But even though she appreciates her life in Denmark, she feels a great longing for the part of her family living abroad. 

"My father is 90 years old, and I may never see him again," says Hanadi. Her greatest wish is to embrace her father and sisters again.

Daniel, 27 years old, fled from Eritrea

It was a life-threatening journey when Daniel fled from the dictatorship in Eritrea, where it took 12 days before he had access to food. Now, approximately eight years since the harsh escape, Daniel lives in Birkerød and is doing well. 

In Denmark, Daniel completed 9th and 10th grade, obtained an education, a full-time job, a large network, and a Danish host family. Daniel's original dream was to become a mechanic, but he is happy with his education as a social and healthcare assistant, where he enjoys working with the elderly. 

But despite many years in Denmark, Daniel still finds himself in an uncertain situation. He longs for a more stable life with permanent residency, which would give him greater security and the ability to plan his future. 

"I would like to live here, but my future is being questioned. It is really difficult for me not to know what will happen after two years," says Daniel.

Although Daniel has many worries about his temporary residence permit, he is grateful for the opportunities he has been given. 

When there is rare internet connection in Eritrea, Daniel calls his mother. Although he misses his family greatly, he knows that if he gets to choose, his future will be in Denmark.

Sara, 25 years old, fled from Afghanistan

When Sara was 15 years old, she bought a laptop. It marked the beginning of a new chapter as a DJ. Even though Sara didn't know the technicalities behind it, she couldn't shake the idea of working professionally with music after seeing a female DJ play at an Iranian wedding.

"I just pressed, played with the buttons, and tried different things," says Sara. 

It has now been seven years since Sara came to Denmark with her mother and three siblings. The family is from Afghanistan but has lived in Iran since Sara was little. In neither the Iranian nor the Afghan culture was it acceptable to be a female DJ, Sara explains. Even worse, as an Afghan in Iran, Sara had no opportunity to get an education, get a driver's license, buy a SIM card, or open her own bank account. The family, which has since been reunited with Sara's father, now lives in an apartment in Hørsholm. Here she has gained recognition and has DJ gigs throughout the Nordic region. Sara has also been given the opportunity to pursue an education and only lacks one year before she is graduated as a social and health assistant. She feels she is very close to achieving her dreams. However, the permanent residence permit is the last and very important piece missing in Sara's life. 

"I am so afraid if I have to go back to the current situation in Afghanistan. If I get a permanent residence permit, it would feel very safe. Then I wouldn't get stressed. Instead, I would be part of society, part of Danish culture, and feel Danish," says Sara.

Tsehaye, 33 years old, and Awet, 32 years old, fled from Eritrea

It has been eight years since Tsehaye and Awet fled from the dictatorship in Eritrea, where both men and women are subjected to compulsory military service. In Libya, the couple had to split up, and Awet was the first to embark on the long journey across the Mediterranean. The rubber boat, intended for only 400 people, had 700 on board, all risking their lives in hopes of a better future. Awet and Tsehaye arrived safely a month apart and were accommodated in different asylum centers in Denmark. 

Now, eight years after their escape, they live in an apartment in Holbæk with their two children, Siems, aged seven, and Mercy, aged five.

Tsehaye often worries about the family's temporary residence permit, describing it as a major source of stress. When he hears about other refugees from Eritrea being deported from Denmark, he is filled with fear that the same could happen to his own family. He is particularly concerned for his children. Siems and Mercy are unaware of their Eritrean heritage beyond what they have seen in pictures. They have grown up in Denmark, and Tsehaye cannot bear to think about what would happen if his children were forced to go to an unknown country one day.

"Our children were born in Denmark. They should not feel like strangers. When they are born here, they should have the same opportunities as all other children – the opportunity to plan their future, go to school, study, and build their lives without fearing being kicked out," says Tsehaye.

Naya, 27 years old, fled from Syria

"I feel like this is where I have created my identity. I cannot see myself returning to Syria," says Naya, who has had a temporary residence permit for 11 years. 

She came to Denmark at the age of 17 with her mother and two younger siblings, where they were reunited with her father, who had fled from Syria a year earlier.

Today, Naya has built her own life in Copenhagen, where she has completed a high school diploma and a further education as a pharmaceutical assistant. She works at Rigshospitalet (Copenhagen University Hospital) and as an on-call worker at RED+, a crisis center for minority ethnic LGBT+ persons. 

But the road there has been filled with uncertainty, especially the temporariness has been a major concern for Naya. Every other year, she must apply for an extension of her residence permit. Today, temporariness has become part of Naya's everyday life, but the worries about losing her residence permit are still there. Naya describes it as an underlying fear that lingers in the back of her mind. A fear of having to leave her friends, her job, and all the good things in Denmark that she has built up over a decade. 

"I'm not a hundred percent sure that I can continue the life I have now. And in a way, I just have to accept it." 

Naya dreams of starting her own little family and having a stable life where she doesn't have to worry about where she can live.

Hamid, 31 years old, fled from Iran

"Uncertainty constantly accompanies me. When you live with a temporary residence permit, temporariness contributes to the fact that even a letter from the authorities can shake you," says Hamid.

It has now been nine years since he had to leave his family in Iran and cross the Mediterranean to seek protection in Europe. The gray rubber boat floated in limbo between two worlds: on one side hope, and on the other side persecution, tells Hamid.

Today, he has a full-time job and lives in a small community on Nørrebro. Although he is positive in spirit and has created the life he once dreamed of, he still doesn't feel like he's part of Danish society because he still has his temporary residence permit. This creates a fear in him of making a misstep and losing the life he has established in Denmark.

Hamid feels that he has to put in extra effort to meet the requirements for staying in Denmark and to convince others of his worth. He compares himself to Japanese houses, which are built extra strong to withstand the frequent earthquakes in the area.

"I am very aware of how I have built my life, how strong the foundation needs to be, how my family life should be, the apartment I buy, the job I have—so that nothing can shake it."

Ammar, 25 years old, fled from Syria 

"I feel like I'm Danish, but I don't have Danish citizenship," says Ammar. 

At the age of 16, Ammar came to Denmark as an unaccompanied refugee. What he didn't know at the time was how challenging it would be to be allowed to stay. Yet Ammar has managed to maintain faith that everything will work out. 

"For me, the most important thing is that we follow our dreams and have hope for the future because we come from a country where everything has been destroyed by the war," he says. 

Now, nine years after Ammar came to Denmark, he is studying to become a service economist. But even though everyday life is good, Ammar's temporary residence permit in Denmark means that he almost daily worries about whether his life will once again be uprooted.

"When you don't have permanent residency, you constantly feel like there will come a day when you can lose everything." 

Although Ammar has not always had an easy time in the last nine years with worries about the future and a deep longing for his mother in Syria, he is grateful to be in a safe country rich in opportunities. Now he simply hopes for a stable future and to be reunited with his mother, whom he has not seen since he fled.

Najia, 62 years old, fled Afghanistan

It has been over 20 years since Najia fled Afghanistan with her daughter. Just three years after arriving in Denmark, she received a letter from the Immigration Service stating that she had been granted permanent residency. 

"It was a good law 20 years ago because the law was easier," says Najia. 

She is grateful that she came to Denmark as a refugee in the early 2000s rather than today, when immigration laws have changed significantly. As part of the tightened requirements, most refugees can only apply for permanent residency after a minimum of eight years in Denmark, and unlike before, all forms of asylum today are granted for temporary residency. 

Although Najia enjoys her daily life, she misses her homeland and her two sisters who live in Afghanistan. Fortunately, Najia has built a large social circle through the Network House in Gentofte, where she meets with volunteers and other people with refugee backgrounds on a daily basis. Since then, Najia has brought three of her five children to Denmark and has joyfully become a grandmother to four grandchildren.

Ghassan, 41 years old, and Mais, 41 years old, fled from Syria 

"Temporality is like a monster. A ghost that follows me all the time," says Ghassan.

On Ghassan and Mais' balcony sits a plant. It's the first and only plant Ghassan has acquired since fleeing to Denmark 10 years ago. In Damascus, Ghassan had a lush garden filled with roses and budding flowers, which he tended to with care. To his great sorrow, he had to leave the green oasis during the war in Syria. First, he and his wife Mais sought safety in Egypt, where they had to split up so Ghassan could cross the Mediterranean alone. They were later reunited in Denmark and have since moved from place to place.

"I love plants, but I dared not buy any because I was afraid we might suddenly have to move again," says Ghassan.

For the same reason, the family hasn't spent money on expensive furniture or hung pictures on the walls of the many places they've lived in Denmark. The couple now lives with their 11-year-old son, Kosay, in an apartment in Holstebro, and the green plant has become a symbol of finally having a place they can call home. Although both Mais and Ghassan have a wide network and a strong attachment to Denmark, they feel just as uncertain about the future. 

"We already came with a lot of trauma from the war, from the escape, and from losing. We struggled a lot with homesickness, and if we have to flee again, do we have to take a rubber boat to Canada? Do I really have to go through this again? Where will I go then? We can't go back to Syria," says Ghassan.

Svitlana, 36 years old, fled from Ukraine

In the Ukrainian capital Kiev, Svitlana had her own hair salon. She had control over her finances, her home, and family life, and she enjoyed being on maternity leave with her son Maxim. But on February 24, 2022, everything changed in a split second. Russian troops had invaded Ukraine, and together with her husband and their young son, Svitlana had to flee to a dark basement room where they spent a week seeking shelter. Soon, Svitlana and Maxim will have been living in Denmark for two years. She was recently reunited with her husband, who arrived in Denmark in January 2024, and the longing has been immense. The couple has known each other since they were in 8th grade and have been inseparable ever since until the war tore them apart. Svitlana describes the reunion in Denmark as a true miracle. 

Svitlana has found a job as a hairdresser, and the small family is now trying to find their footing in a municipal housing in Hvidovre with other displaced Ukrainians. But the uncertainty about what awaits them after the special law expires in March 2025 weighs heavily on her. 

"When you reach my age and have a child, you start to think that now you should enjoy the results of your work and the stability you have built. Instead, we are in a situation where we have to start all over again without any perspective or a defined future."

Svitlana cannot imagine returning to Ukraine as the situation stands now. Her dream is a completely normal everyday life where Maxim can grow up without a war raging outside.

Elias, 38 years old, fled from Eritrea

"It's been so many years that it's breaking me down. To obtain permanent residency, you have to constantly be on guard—I think to myself, I shouldn't need help from the municipality, I shouldn't have debt to the state. You're always in a state of alert. Life is influenced by the temporary situation, and you're not focusing on actual living. When am I just going to live my life?" says Elias.

It's been just over 10 years since Elias fled from the dictatorship in Eritrea and embarked on a risky route through desert sands and the high waves of the Mediterranean, where many refugees have lost their lives over time. Elias was one of those who made it to Europe safely.

But arriving in Denmark he is still working hard to achieve a stable life. Elias works at Bispebjerg Hospital as a social and health care assistant while studying to become a nurse. 

Every other year, he has to apply for an extension of his residence permit, and especially as the application deadline approaches, he becomes restless and uneasy.

"It's like a wound that gets picked at every other year. It never gets a chance to heal."

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