Danish MPs back controversial plan to relocate asylum seekers outside Europe

Danish lawmakers voted Thursday for Denmark to set up a refugee reception center in a third country likely to be in Africa, a move that could be a first step to move the country’s asylum research process outside of Europe.

Legislation passed by 70-24 votes with no abstentions and 85 absent legislators authorizes the Danish government, once a deal is made, to transfer asylum seekers to the third country in question for the purpose of examining the substance of asylum applications and any subsequent protection in accordance with Denmark’s international obligations”.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the European Union and several international organizations have criticized the plan, saying it would undermine international cooperation and there are no details on how human rights would be protected.

Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye has said the Danish government needs a legal framework for a new asylum system before details can be presented. The centre-right opposition backs the minority Social Democratic government and voted in favor of the bill passed Thursday.

“This is insane, this is absurd,” Michala C. Bendixen, a spokesperson for advocacy and legal aid organization Refugees Welcome, told the Associated Press. “The bottom line is that Denmark wants to get rid of refugees. The plan is to deter people from applying for asylum in Denmark.”

‘Not possible under EU rules’

The European Union executive committee expressed concern about the vote and its implications, saying any step to outsource asylum applications is not compatible with the laws of the 27-nation bloc. Denmark is a member of the EU.

“External processing of asylum applications raises fundamental questions about both access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection. This is not possible under existing EU rules,” said European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz.

He said such an approach is not part of the proposals of the EU’s asylum reform committee, which was overwhelmed by the arrival in Europe of more than 1 million people in 2015, many of them from Syria.

For a few years now, Denmark’s Social Democrats floated the idea of ​​establishing a refugee center abroad. In January, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen reiterated the election campaign’s vision of having “zero asylum seekers”.

The Social Democrats claim their approach would prevent people from taking the perilous journey across the Mediterranean to reach Europe and undermine migrant smugglers who exploit desperate asylum seekers. Since 2014, more than 20,000 migrants and refugees have died trying to cross the sea.

Bendixen said the government’s argument is “nonsense” because asylum seekers should still go to Denmark. According to the government plan, they would not be able to apply directly to a reception center outside the country, as this can only be done at a Danish border. Instead, those reaching Denmark would be sent to a third country while their applications are being processed.

More radical than far-right proposals

More radical than the extreme right

In an interview with FRANCE 24, Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, an associate professor at the Center of Advanced Migration Studies at the University of Copenhagen, said the government justified the criticized move by calling it “humanitarian.”

“They focus on the appalling conditions for migrants crossing the Mediterranean, and they say their model is going to end that. However, if you look at the other recent experiences with countries like Rwanda, there is much to question that interpretation,” he said, referring to a similar deal between Israel and Rwanda from 2013 to 2017, under which 4,000 migrants were deported from Israel. sent. to Rwanda.

“Most [of them] eventually re-migrated and re-entered the human smuggling networks and ended up in European countries. So there is much to say that this kind of territorialization is actually going to add a new level to the smuggling dynamics that the government is using as an argument for its policies.”

In April, the Danish government said it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda. The government has kept quiet about the memorandum, which is not legally binding and sets the framework for future negotiations and cooperation between the two countries.

The Danish daily Jyllands-Posten reports that Denmark has also been in talks with Tunisia, Ethiopia and Egypt.

Tesfaye has promised lawmakers that any agreement with another country will be submitted to parliament before the government can “take on a model or send someone to a shelter,” lawmaker Mads Fuglede of the liberal opposition party told Jyllands-Posten.

Lemberg-Pedersen said Denmark currently has no such agreement — not even at a negotiation level — with any country, including Rwanda, meaning Danish legislation “has no real substance, or any of the human rights guarantees and protections that the government has.” [just] assuming it will be possible”.

He also said it would put countries like Rwanda in a dangerously advantageous bargaining position, if and when such talks actually get off the ground. “What it actually creates is a pretty obvious incentive [for these countries] to put themselves in a position where they “maybe” agree and in return, in this case from the Danish government, demand an increasing number of benefits, political legitimacy, economic trade and so on. Let’s not forget that in the case of Rwanda, the regime of Paul Kagame won the last so-called democratic elections with 99 percent of the vote, which is certainly another form of democracy.”

“It’s terrifying to point out that up until the election campaign, in which the Danish Social Democrats actually first voiced this proposal, there was a requirement that a host country be democratic, but – about a month and a half ago – the government went very vocal and let that condition, saying that the institutions need not be democratic.”

The immigration stance of the Social Democratic government resembles the positions taken by right-wing nationalists when mass migration to Europe peaked in 2015. Denmark recently made headlines by declaring parts of Syria ‘safe’ and revoking the residence permits of some Syrian refugees.

In 2016, the Social Democrats backed a law that would allow Danish authorities to seize refugees’ jewelry and other belongings to help fund their housing and other services. Human rights groups condemned the law, which had been proposed by the center-right government that led Denmark at the time, although in practice it has only been implemented a handful of times.

The Social Democrats also voted to place rejected asylum seekers and foreigners convicted of crimes on a small island that previously had facilities for research into infectious animal diseases. That plan was eventually scrapped.

Lemberg-Pedersen noted that the last election actually focused on climate change, rather than immigration: “So if we judge it by the sign that the Social Democrats got the vote, getting them into government, this [legislation] is not something that had widespread support.

“This proposal is more radical than any proposals the Danish right has proposed in the past ten years, so in a sense the Social Democratic government has passed the right wing with this proposal.”

( Jowhar with AP)

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