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Danish Prime Minister apologises to 22 Greenland children 69 years after social experiment

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she had been following the case "for many years".
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she had been following the case "for many years". Copyright Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP
Copyright Olivier Hoslet, Pool via AP
By Matthew Holroyd
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22 Greenland children were involuntarily brought to Denmark as part of a social experiment for a "better life" but Prime Minister Frederiksen has acknowledged that they were deprived of a childhood.

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Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has apologised for a social experiment that brought 22 Greenlandic children to Denmark in 1951.

Nearly 70 years ago, the government had intended for the children to abandon Greenland for a "better life" and become a Danish-speaking elite in the territory.

But as the experiment progressed, the children suffered and they were instead placed in an orphanage in Nuuk when they returned home. Some of the 22 involved never saw their families again.

The so-called involuntary "Greenland Children Project" had been under investigation by both Danish authorities and the government of Greenland ("Naalakkersuisut") since February last year.

A historical report into the experiment was published on Tuesday, which examined the background of the trial, including who was selected and why.

The report also investigated differences between the children's lives and experiences in Denmark and Greenland, as well as the human consequences it had for them.

Following its release, the Danish Prime Minister officially apologised to the children, stating that she had been following the case "for many years".

"I am still deeply touched by the human tragedies it contains," Mette Frederiksen said in a statement.

"The consideration for the children was set aside. So they lost the ties to their families and lineage, their life history, to Greenland, and thus to their own people."

"We cannot change what has happened, but we can take responsibility and apologise to those we should have taken care of but failed."

Speaking on Tuesday, PM Frederiksen added that she had met one of the children during a recent visit to Greenland and had apologised in person.

Upon her appointment in June 2019, the Prime Minister had pledged to seek forgiveness from children who were "exposed to being forced to be Danish".

"You were not asked if you would attend, no one told you what to expect," Mette Frederiksen stated in her letter to the children on Tuesday.

"You lost touch with your immediate family, your life story, and therefore your roots - the whole foundation that every child, every human being, needs, and demands. No children should be exposed to it."

Mette Fredriksen also stated that she could "scarcely imagine" the loneliness and fright felt by the children during their forced relocation and said they had been deprived of a lifetime.

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"It was, in my eyes, an unreasonable and heartless treatment."

A number of the 22 Greenlandic children who took part in the project have since passed away.

The Chairman of the Naalakkersuisut, Kim Kielsen, added that he was "deeply touched" to read about their fate.

"Their special upbringing had major consequences for their relationship with the family and society and not least for their identity as Greenlanders."

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"Now here, almost 70 years later, we are with Self-Government, and the cooperation between Denmark and Greenland has developed a lot."

"Today we stand as equal parties, who together look back in history and feel and see the consequences of the political decisions of the time," said Kim Kielsen.

"We have and will always learn from our common history, both the good and the sad sides of history".

Greenland, the world's largest island, is an autonomous territory within the Kingdom of Denmark and has been culturally linked with Europe despite its proximity to North America.

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In 2019, US President Donald Trump privately discussed the idea of purchasing Greenland from Denmark in a bid to expand American territory, but the proposals were downplayed.

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