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Is Denmark's proposed refugee legislation unrealistic?

Is Denmark's proposed refugee legislation unrealistic?

| Text: Marie Preisler, photo: Frontex

Denmark’s government has presented legislation that represents a first step towards realising a controversial election promise to set up reception centres in countries outside the EU. Refugees would stay there while their asylum applications are processed in Denmark. Critics doubt the proposed legislation is realistic.

Bringing the number of asylum seekers at Denmark’s borders to zero. That is the ultimate goal of proposed legislation presented to parliament by the Danish government and recently sent out for consultation. But even before parliament starts debating the proposed legislation, it seems doubtful it can be realised.

The government’s desire to move asylum application processes and the housing of asylum seekers out of Europe faces all kinds of legal and practical challenges. The idea is that one or maybe several African countries take responsibility for the asylum process in exchange for a fee. 

The Danish government says this would not be in breach of EU rules or international law, but Danish law would have to be changed. A legal memo prepared for the government argues that even with such reception centres, Denmark will be required to treat some asylum seekers’ cases in Denmark.

Fewer rubber dinghies

The Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye (Social Democrats) has argued the proposal could prevent refugees from drowning during the crossing of the Mediterranean Sea. It could also lead to a far better asylum system, he argues. 

“We should encourage fewer people to risk the dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and use the money to help more people better in the local areas. One of the ways to do this is to move asylum application processing and the protection of refugees out of the EU. That way there is no longer any need to pay people smugglers for a space on the rubber dinghy. And we will not spend 300,000 kroner (€40,300) a year on each failed applicant who refuses to go home,” the minister said in a press release.

Mattias Tesfaye

Mattias Tesfaye, Denmark’s Minister for Immigration and Integration. Photo: Keld Navntoft.

The government is now talking to a number of countries outside the EU about becoming “hosts” for the Danish asylum application process in the future. The negotiations include what price Denmark should pay for this service. The Minister for Immigration and Integration is quoted as saying that he is open to the idea that Denmark could for instance provide more economic support to help deal with waves of migration or also accept more students from a country that processes Danish asylum applications.

The Danish government has also talked to other European countries in the hope that they will follow Denmark’s example. The minister would like to see this expanded into a European model, but so far there has been no support in the EU. Both Norway and the UK have been contacted as alternatives, writes the Jyllands-Posten newspaper. It quotes Mattias Tesfaye as saying this about the two countries:

“They are interesting countries in that they, like us, are impacted by migrants, and their governments are debating this.”

The newspaper could not confirm with sources in the Norwegian government that it had been contacted by the Danish minister. 

Few asylum seekers

The controversial asylum proposal is the culmination of a promise the Social Democrats made at the last election, and the government has developed two models for how asylum applications can be processed outside of the EU. 

In one, Danish authorities would process the applications and accommodation in a country outside of Europe, in the other the foreign country’s own authorities would be carrying out these tasks on Denmark’s behalf. 

The models were not presented to the European Court of Human Rights and the EU Court of Justice, and many experts have been very critical of the proposal in various media. They doubt it is possible to find countries outside of the EU that would both be able and willing to operate reception centres. They also point out it would be impossible to "flag out" the asylum process because there would be so many exceptions where asylum seekers in any case would have the right to have their application processed in Denmark.

 Asylum graph

In 2015, Denmark had 21,316 asylum seekers. By 2020, the number had fallen to 1,547. Source: Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

The proposal came at a time when new figures showed Denmark registered 1,547 asylum seekers (in 2020) – the lowest figure so far. The Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfayes has said the Corona situation probably is one reason behind this, but he also believes that “this is thanks to our strict immigration policy”.

Harder to gain citizenship

The government is also preparing a tightening of citizenship rules. Mattias Tesfaye has proposed that anyone sentenced to prison should not be given Danish citizenship without this being approved by parliament’s naturalisation committee. A citizen application would only be presented to the committee after a deferred period reflecting the length of sentence given to the applicant. 

This would mean an applicant who is sentenced to prison for up to 60 days would not see their application presented to the committee for 12 years after being released. An applicant with a non-custodial sentence would have their case presented to the committee six years after being sentenced. 

If the opposition Venstre party got its way, citizenship should also be denied to people who do not accept Danish values. The party's immigration spokesperson, Morten Dahlin, told Weekendavisen that Venstre wants civil servants assess whether asylum seekers for instance put the Koran over the Danish constitution and whether a father would insist on having social control over his daughter so that she cannot choose her own boyfriend.

This would be in breach of Danish values and would “not be rewarded” with Danish citizenship, explained Dahlin. 

Young Nordic people have an advantage

In their report “A stranger in your own country?” the Danish Institute for Human Rights has examined the access to citizenship for children and young people who are born or grew up in Denmark. The report concludes that only those with citizenship in another Nordic country have a legal right to Danish citizenship.

If they are born or grew up in Denmark, they can gain citizenship relatively easily, while young people with non-Nordic citizenships also had relatively easy access to Danish citizenship until 2004. Today they must go through a long and uncertain application process, which has great consequences for the young people’s well-being and education opportunities, the report concludes.

“Asylum process moving out of the EU”

“Thousands drown each year trying to cross the Mediterranean. Many of those who reach the EU do not need protection. It is often still difficult to return failed asylum applicants and this is unsustainable, says Denmark’s Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye. He wants to move the asylum application process out of the EU, to remove the incentive to journey across the Mediterranean. Photo: Frontex


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