- BBC News World
For decades Denmark was known as one of the world’s most supportive countries for the refugee cause. Not in vain was it the first nation to sign the UN Convention in 1951 that establishes the mechanisms to protect them.
In the last decade, however, the old policies on issues such as immigration or asylum have changed a lot, contradicting the image of a “liberal paradise” that many have of this country.
This Thursday, the Danish Parliament passed new legislation to relocate asylum seekers to other countries outside the European Union, where they will have to wait until their cases are decided but that, in addition, would allow the possibility that they end up being welcomed not by Denmark but by that other country.
The regulation was approved with a large majority of 70 votes in favor and only 24 against.
In statements quoted by Reuters, Danish government spokesman Rasmus Stoklund made clear the purpose of the new legislation.
“If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent to a country outside of Europe and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark“, He said.
The Danish authorities are actively looking for countries that want to welcome their asylum seekers and, last April, firmaron an agreement with Rwanda to cooperate on immigration and asylum matters, which generated speculation about the possibility of establishing a processing center of this type in this African country.
The initiative to leave the handling of asylum requests in the hands of third parties was harshly criticized by the UN, the European Commission and various NGOs.
“Lack of solidarity”
As early as last April, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) had warned that the Danish legislative proposal could start a “race to the bottom” if other countries followed suit.
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) also harshly questioned the new law and called for its rejection.
“The idea of outsourcing the processing of asylum applications is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity“the DRC said in a statement.
The European Commission, for its part, questioned the compatibility of the new law with Denmark’s international commitments.
“External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both access to asylum procedures and effective protection. This is not possible under current EU rules,” said Adalbert Jahnz, a spokesman for the European Commission.
But this legislation is only the latest of many steps Denmark has taken in recent times to toughen its asylum and immigration policies.
Closing the doors
Perhaps one of the measures that best shows the turn that Denmark has taken on these issues is the fact that in mid-May it became the first European country to revoke asylee status more than 200 refugees from Syria.
Your argument? That some parts of Syria are already safe enough for them to return.
The decision sparked great criticism from refugee support organizations and sowed fear among the community of 35,000 Syrians residing in the Nordic country.
“Going back is a risk for anyone who has left Syria. All my life is here. How can I go back now? “Said Sara, a 19-year-old Syrian girl whose family was removed from asylum and given 60 days to leave the country.
Mohammed Almalees, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee who will be able to stay in Denmark – unlike his parents and sister who must return – agrees to warn about the dangers of returning asylees to Syria.
“The regime has the names of those who have demonstrated against (Bashar) Assad both in Syria and Denmark. They monitor social media,” he said.
Sara Kayyali, a Syrian researcher at Human Rights Watch, has said that the Danish authorities’ assessment of the situation in that country is flawed.
“It is not safe for refugees to return. The risk of being arbitrarily detained, persecuted and tortured by the Syrian security services remains today, “he noted.
But how and why has Danish policy on this matter changed?
21,000 to zero
In 2015 Denmark saw the largest number of asylum seekers in recent times – 21,000 people.
Their asylum policies were tightened then and again in 2019, with a shift in focus from seeking the integration of newcomers to focus on providing them with temporary protection with a view to their repatriation.
In these years, different Danish governments have developed aggressive campaigns against immigrants, including the approval of a regulation that allowed the confiscation of the garments and valuables that the asylum seekers brought with them.
According to the Danish press, this legislation had a more symbolic rather than a practical effect, as it appears that the authorities have only applied it to a very limited extent.
A few months ago, the Danish government proposed legislation to reduce the number of “non-Western” residents living in so-called “ghettos” or unprotected neighborhoods, limiting the amount to 30% in 10 years.
Interior Minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said that having too many non-Western foreigners in a neighborhood “increases the risk of parallel religious and cultural societies emerging.”
And it must be remembered that in 2015 the Danish government published advertisements in some foreign newspapers in which they made it clear that refugees were not welcome in that country.
The truth is that the hardening of Danish migration policies, paradoxically, has not been driven only by the right, since, in fact, the ruling Social Democratic party has also done the same to regain voters who had been listed to the right.
Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, associate professor at the Center for Advanced Migration Studies, notes that currently the Danish system does not believe that integration can workTherefore, its policies focus on a “logic of deterrence”, on sending a message so that potential immigrants do not see that country as a possible destination.
Last year, the number of asylum applications fell by 1,500, of which only 600 were approved, the lowest in three decades.
“That is really good news,” said the Minister of Immigration and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye.
“The coronavirus, of course, played a role, but I think – first and foremost – it was because of our strict foreign policy. Many of those who come here do not need any protection,” he added.
Currently, the refugee goal that the government expects to receive is zero, claiming that the money saved can be used to reinforce the welfare state.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.