MPs in Denmark passed, by a vote of 70-20, legislation that will allow authorities to relocate asylum seekers to centres in third countries outside the European Union while their applications are processed. “If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark,” said the government’s spokesman.
Government officials report that they have begun negotiations with potential partner countries. There is speculation that Rwanda may become one such partner country, following news that the two countries signed a diplomatic agreement on asylum matters in April.
Numerous observers have condemned the legislation, including the European Commission, which questioned the bill’s compatibility with Denmark’s international obligations. Blasting the bill as “irresponsible” and “lacking in solidarity,” the Danish Refugee Council warned that “Similar models, such as the Australian model or the so-called ‘hotspots’ on the Greek islands, have involved serious incidents of detention, physical assault, slow asylum proceedings, lack of access to health care and lack of access to legal assistance.”
The GDP has repeatedly highlighted in its reporting on Denmark that the country has gained notoriety for its increasingly strict immigration regime and adoption of harsh rhetoric regarding migrants and refugees. In January this year Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, in comments before Parliament, highlighted her plans to reduce the number of asylum applications in Denmark to zero. Authorities recently revoked the residence permits of several hundred Syrian refugees in the country, after deeming parts of Syria “safe” for returnees.
The country’s main immigration detention sites–Ellebæk Detention Centre and Nykøbing Falster Arrest–meanwhile remain sites of grave concerns for many observers. In 2019, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture described the living conditions and regimes in both facilities as “unacceptable,” and–in light of at least one credible allegation of excessive use of force against a detainee–warned the management of Ellebæk Detention Centre that “all forms of ill-treatment, including verbal abuse, are unacceptable and will be sanctioned accordingly.”
During the COVID-19 pandemic, levels of anxiety amongst detainees’ have reportedly risen, and many detainees have seen their detention prolonged repeatedly–despite authorities’ inability to conduct deportations. In an op-ed for Al Jazeera, two members of Ellebæk Contact Network, a former detainee and a Danish researcher, wrote: “The measures taken by authorities to reduce the risk of infection, including limiting the number of visitors allowed, cancelling activities and church services, which provided a connection to the outside world, together with the risk of being forcibly tested for COVID-19 and quarantined in solitary confinement have aggravated their isolation and reduced the possibilities for external actors to monitor the conditions for detainees.”
- R. Kennedy, “Why is Denmark Under Fire for a New Law to Send its Asylum Seekers Abroad?” Euronews, 7 June 2021, https://www.euronews.com/2021/06/07/everything-we-currently-know-about-denmark-s-plans-for-offshore-refugee-centres
- The Guardian, “Denmark Passes Law to Relocate Asylum Seekers Outside Europe,” 3 June 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jun/03/denmark-passes-law-to-let-it-relocate-asylum-seekers-outside-europe
- Danish Refugee Council, “Statement on the Danish Proposal to Potentially Externalise the Asylum Procedure,” 3 June 2021, https://drc.ngo/about-us/for-the-media/press-releases/2021/6/statement-on-the-danish-proposal-on-potentially-externalize-the-asylum-procedure/
- The Local, “Danish Prime Minister Wants Country to Accept ‘Zero’ Asylum Seekers,” 22 January 2021, https://www.thelocal.dk/20210122/danish-prime-minister-wants-country-to-accept-zero-asylum-seekers/
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Denmark: Where Officials Celebrate the Deprivation of Liberty of ‘Rejected Asylum Seekers,’” 24 May 2018, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/immigration-detention-in-denmark-where-officials-celebrate-the-deprivation-of-liberty-of-rejected-asylum-seekers
- European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT), “Report to the Danish Government on the Visit to Denmark Carried Out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CPT) from 3 to 12 April 2019,” 7 January 2020, https://rm.coe.int/1680996859
- J.S. Daugaard et al, “Restoring the Right to Breathe: Migration Detention Must End,” Al Jazeera, 22 March 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/opinions/2021/3/22/restoring-the-right-to-breathe-migration-detention-must-end