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The escape from al-Shabaab’s troops ended at Hvalsoe Sawmill

After having fled from the Islamist terrorist organisation al-Shabaab, Somali-born Ilmi Mohamed Rage is now making his way into the Danish labour market. His dream is to get a lorry licence so he can help with work both outside and inside at Hvalsoe Sawmill.
Four years after Somali-born Ilmi Mohamed Rage fled from al-Shabaab’s troops, he is slowly making his way into the Danish labour market. Photo: Christian Liliendahl

Publiceret: 10.05.2017
Af Peter G. H. Madsen mail

You have three options. We can shoot you, hang you, or you can join our army.

That was the offer 29-year-old Somali-born Ilmi Mohamed Rage was presented with one summer day four years ago, when a member of the Islamist terrorist group al-Shabaab showed up at his home in a village in Somalia in Eastern Africa.

Ilmi chose none of the options. Instead, he fled. Reluctantly, but in haste, he left his wife, newborn daughter and the village in which his whole life existed. Via Ethiopia, Turkey and Greece, he ended up in Denmark - a country that he had never heard of, but which could offer him what he needed the most - security - far away from al-Shabaab. 

Here, four years later, he is slowly but surely making his way into the Danish labour market.

Each morning he shows up at Hvalsoe Sawmill, where he is learning, with steel-toed work boots planted amidst wood chips and sawdust, what it means to be part of a Danish industrial enterprise.

His Danish is still far from fluent, but the message is clear. It is good to be in Denmark. And it is good to be at Hvalsoe Sawmill. 

“I am very, very happy here. I now work and go to school. And in Denmark, there are not the same problems as there were in Somalia,” says Ilmi Mohamed Rage, who has worked at the sawmill since January.

See also: Video - CEO, refugees represent growth for us

Whoever has the ability also has the duty

CEO and owner of Hvalsoe Sawmill Martin Nyrop-Larsen does not want praise for having taken in Ilmi Mohamed Rage.

But he will go so far as to say that, in his view, it is a duty to help integrate refugees into the Danish labour market.

“Whoever has the ability also has the duty, as my old idol Mærsk McKinney Møller said,” says Martin Nyrop-Larsen and adds:

“It’s a question of social responsibility. The refugees are here now.  As citizens and businesses, we therefore have an obligation to help them integrate into society and the Danish labour market.”

Meanwhile, social responsibility is a somewhat contentious issue at Hvalsoe Sawmill. Every time CEO Martin Nyrop-Larsen’s “social heart” starts beating extra hard, the production manager of the 23-person company is ready to remind him that there is a daily operation that needs to run without too many problems.

“At the end of the day, it’s my production manager who must deal with the challenge when I’m feeling socially engaged,” says Martin Nyrop-Larsen.

See also: Significantly more refugees entered the jobmarket in 2016

The municipality handles the paperwork

The fact that Ilmi Mohamed Rage is today on his way to becoming an integrated part of the Danish labour market is also a result of the 2016 tripartite agreement between the Government, municipalities and the labour market’s organisations on enhanced efforts to get the many newly-arrived refugees into the labour market.

As part of the agreement, a special integration programme (IGU) was set up, giving refugees the opportunity to combine training and work at a company. It is through the IGU that Ilmi Mohamed has ended up at Hvalsoe Sawmill.

Martin Nyrop-Larsen was initially a bit sceptical of the programme, which he thought could potentially create “a lot of administrative hassle”. But when the municipality offered to help out, Hvalsoe Sawmill was prepared to take on the task.

“The municipality deserves great praise. They handle all the paperwork we don’t have time for. In my opinion, it would be a shame, too, if the IGU programme does not become a success, since the public spends so many resources on it.”

After a slow start, the number of refugees enrolled in the IGU programme is now drastically increasing. At the turn of the year, a total of 114 people were part of the IGU programme, but in the latest tally at the end of February, the number had increased to 268.
From Somalia to Denmark

At the end of the day, the refugees’ successful road into the Danish labour market also depends on the colleagues who will stand by their side at the many Danish companies.

At Hvalsoe Sawmill, Ilmi Mohamed Rage’s colleague is Carl Mænnchen. He has been with the company for 31 years and knows the production process inside and out. 

“Coming up here and suddenly working at an industrial enterprise like Hvalsoe Sawmill must be like landing on Mars when you were born and raised in Somalia. It really takes something. And that’s why I’m helping him out a little,” says Carl Mænnchen.

Among other things, this help involves Carl Mænnchen guiding Ilmi through the workflows at the sawmill and the work mentality.

“Ilmi has a slightly different approach to things. He’s more ‘laid-back’, and I therefore offer him tips for what to do sometimes. But it’s not so different from how it is with new employees with Danish backgrounds who aren’t familiar with the daily routines here at the sawmill,” says Carl Mænnchen.

And then there is the thing about safety. In his hometown, Ilmi Mohamed Rage ran a small shop with his father where they sold milk, eggs and another everyday necessities. Working at a Danish sawmill - also when it comes to safety - is quite a different story.

“Murphy’s Law says that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong. It is therefore everyone’s job to take care of each other - and especially to take care of Ilmi, who doesn’t have the same experience as us,” says Carl Mænnchen. 

See also: Copenhagen gets spouses of foreign nationals into work

Danish is the fundament

On the whole, safety plays a central role at Hvalsoe Sawmill. CEO Martin Nyrop-Larsen was therefore also firmly set on receiving a candidate who could speak and understand the most basic Danish. Language should not be the cause of accidents.

“You cannot be at a Danish workplace like ours without speaking Danish,” the CEO says and notes that Hvalsoe Sawmill has been awarded the Green Smiley from the Danish Working Environment Authority. 

Language has, however, proven to be a bit of a challenge for Ilmi Mohamed Rage. Not that it has led to accidents, but at a sawmill, employees should ideally be able to drive a lorry. Large amounts of lumber are difficult to move with manual labour. 

The problem is that exceedingly good Danish skills are required to get an HGV licence. When Ilmi tried to get an HGV licence for the first time, he was therefore discouraged by the textbooks’ complicated vocabulary 

But when Ilmi has become a bit better at Danish, he will give it another try.

“Everyone drives a lorry here at the sawmill. And I want to be able to help, too. If I get a lorry licence, I’ll be able to assist both in here with the machines and outside,” says Ilmi Mohamed Rage, who, in addition to taking Danish lessons two days a week, also gets help from a volunteer who studies with him.

According to CEO Martin Nyrop-Larsen, the greatest victory would be if Ilmi comes one day and says that he has found a better opportunity.

“I cannot promise Ilmi that he will be able to get a job here when he’s finished. But he will definitely get a great letter of recommendation. And if he comes to me one day and says that he has found something better with a better salary, that’s definitely a success,” he says. 

The terrorist group al-Shabaab
• Al-Shabaab means “the youth” in Arabic. 
• Al-Shabaab is a terrorist group that describes itself as jihadist warriors fighting against “enemies of Islam”. According to the BBC, the movement has around 7-9,000 fighters.
• Ideologically, al-Shabaab is closely aligned with al-Qaeda and its goal is to implement a strict form of Sharia law.
• The group has carried out terrorist attacks against Somalia’s government, the UN and Western humanitarian organisations in Somalia. It has also carried out several violent attacks in Kenya, including the 2 April 2015 attack at Garissa University, in which 148 people were killed, the majority of whom were Christian students. 
Source: BBC and Kristeligt Dagblad

Hvalsoe Sawmill Ltd.
• Founded in 1935.
• Family-owned company with 23 employees.
• Primarily cuts beech and is world-renowned for its vacuum-dried 100 per cent white beech for the furniture industry. Its wood is primarily sold to Japan.
• By far the majority of the beech cut by Hvalsoe Sawmill comes from the Danish national forests on Zealand and Lolland-Falster.
• The sawmill also buys and sells lumber abroad, e.g. in Africa.
Refugees in IGU programmes
• The Basic Integration Programme (IGU) is a trial programme targeted at refugees.
• The programme was launched on 1 June, 2016, and will run for the next three years. The programme lasts for two years, during which the individual receives a total of 20 weeks of training and works at the company the rest of the time. The company and the refugee agree upon the employment conditions and training programme themselves but can receive help from the municipality, for example to put the two parties in contact. 
• After the two-year programme, the refugee must be prepared either to join the workplace on equal footing with other employees or to begin an education.
• Interns must have lived in Denmark for less than five years and be between 18 and 40 years old.
• The framework for setting up IGU courses is in place. The forms are available online from the Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration. Public authorities can also offer advice about use of the programme.

The Confederation of Danish Industries has established a team that provides feedback, advice and counselling regarding employment contracts, training programmes etc. You can contact DI via phone at 3377 3390 and at flygtningedi.dk. Read more at di.dk/IGU.


I am very, very happy here. I now work and go to school. And in Denmark, there are not the same problems as there were in Somalia.
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PUBLISHED: 5/10/2017 LAST MODIFIED: 5/10/2017