We meet near a railway station close to the centre of Copenhagen. He has thick black hair swept back and a jacket that looks too thin in the biting cold of the late afternoon.
Ahmed, it's not his real name, has been in Denmark for a long time – he doesn't want to say how long. He came from Turkey. His father was a member of the PKK, a group fighting to create a Kurdish homeland. But he was killed by Turkish army special forces. Ahmed was then served his conscription papers for the Turkish army, but he didn't want anything to do with the people who killed his father. He was worried he too would be killed. So he ran. First to Germany, then on to Denmark.
He applied for asylum and waited three years for a decision. His lawyer argued that his life was at risk and that because of his family connections he simply couldn't return. The Danish panel listened carefully, and then ruled against him. At the asylum centre, he waited and wondered when they would come to deport him. At that point Ahmed decided he couldn't let that happen, and so he disappeared. He walked out of the camp and became a ghost.
He lives in an apartment, he works sometimes, he even has a family but to the Danish authorities he doesn't exist.
'I cannot get sick. If I went to a doctor or a hospital, that would let people know where I am. I rarely go out. Even being here with you is a risk. I try to be invisible.'
He helps with the cost of running his home by taking odd jobs for cash where he can. In his faltering English he tells me: 'I know the pay is poor. I know it's much less than they would pay normally but what else can I do? I cannot complain. I need the money.'
As we walk by the river we talk about the life he left behind. 'I love my land. I love the people there, my family. I have not spoken to them for years. I cannot come to the surface.' I ask what the hardest thing is about staying hidden. His head drops and he speaks slowly and quietly: 'I have to lie, it seems all the time. And I have to remember what lies I have told. What names, what stories, what places. It is very stressful but I do not like to lie. Every day I worry I will slip up on one little thing and that will be enough. They will come, there will be a knock on the door and I will be taken away.'
Michala Clante Bendixen helps run the Underground Committee for Refugees in Copenhagen. A graphic artist, she does what she can to help those who have lost their cases and melted away to join the faces in the crowd. 'There are many like Ahmed. If he returns, he could be killed because of his family connections. Under EU rules, he could apply for asylum again because his country is considered dangerous but if he filed papers, they would know where he was and deport him before the case could be heard. He cannot win so has to live the way he does.'
Ahmed says that maybe one day it will be safe for him to return to his homeland but for the moment Denmark is where he lives – in full sight, but invisible.
This article was first published in SR in 2009