In response to the Global Detention Project’s Covid-19 survey, the Danish Ombudsman’s office, which also acts as the country’s National Preventive Mechanism (NPM), forwarded to the GDP a letter it had sent to the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT), the international body established by the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture. The letter was issued on 27 April following a request from the SPT for information from NPMs about their activities in response to Covid-19.
The letter reported that the Danish Ombudsman’s office halted visits to detention sites on 12 March to reduce the risk of spreading infection. The Ombudsman’s office also confirmed, in telephone conversation with the Global Detention Project, that this included visits to immigration detention facilities. Monitoring would still take place through data and information collection.
Regarding the Prison and Probation Service, the Ombudsman’s office reported that:
– Prisoners were not allowed to receive visitors apart from lawyers and priests; they were not allowed to go on leave; if they presented any Covid-19 symptoms, prisoners would be isolated and the prisoners’ right to normal community would be restricted to 10 persons or less;
– Prisoners were allowed more telephone time – in “open” prisons, prisoners had access to their mobile phones in order to FaceTime; leave days could be accumulated for later use; a medical doctor would be informed on the suspicion of Covid-19;
– As of 12 March 2020, the Prison and Probation Service decided not to receive new prisoners;
– 20-25 prisoners had been isolated on the suspicion of Covid-19 contagion;
– Only one prisoner had tested positive for Covid-19; and
– The number of prisoners had decreased and the slight overcrowding ended on 1 April 2020. Approximately 96-97 percent of the capacity was in use of 14 April 2020.
The Danish Ombudsman’s office reported that no new places of detention had been established and no persons had been placed in quarantine without consent. The Ombudsman’s office had also received some 100 letters from inmates asking for a postponement of their imprisonment, although the Ombudsman’s office reported that it does not have the power to do so, which was communicated to the inmates.
The Ombudsman also said that they were in close contact with their partners, the Danish Institute Against Torture (DIGNITY) and the Danish Institution for Human Rights (DIHR). DIGNITY has published “Global guidance and recommendations on how to prevent and manage Covid-19 in prisons” and DIHR was in the process of analysing the various Covid-19 laws and regulations as to their coherence with human rights.
On 24 April, UNHCR thanked Denmark for its contribution ($14.8M USD) to support the organisation’s Covid-19 appeal to protect refugees and their host communities around the world from the threat of the pandemic. The contribution places Denmark among the top four country donors to UNCHR’s Covid-19 response efforts.
In their 5 May newsletter, ECRE reported that forced and voluntary returns were not being carried out and that departure deadlines for cases where departure dates were planned prior to the lock-down had been extended and were under review. They added that the government had not adopted any policy on the release of immigration detainees, leaving this question to judicial authorities. ECRE also reported that when asylum seekers are released from detention, they are directed to take up residence at an asylum centre pending the outcome of their case.
Denmark currently hosts 39,000 refugees and asylum seekers. The Ministry of Health has published fliers and educational videos in multiple languages to help refugees understand the new rules about Covid-19. The Danish Refugee Council used Facebook to help refugee students with their homework by matching them with local volunteers.
- N. Fenger (Danish Ombudsman Office), Letter to Bhooshun Domah (UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture), 27 April 2020.
- Klavs Kinnerup Hede (Danish Ombudsman Office), Email to the Global Detention Project, 5 June 2020.
- UNHCR, “UNHCR Thanks Denmark for Substantial Support to Help Protect the World’s Refugees from the Threat of Coronavirus,” 24 April 2020, https://www.unhcr.org/neu/36531-unhcr-thanks-denmark-for-substantial-support-to-help-protect-the-worlds-refugees-from-the-threat-of-coronavirus.html
- ECRE, “Information Sheet 5 May 2020: Covid-19 Measures Related to Asylum and Migration Across Europe,” 5 May 2020, https://www.ecre.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/COVID-INFO-5-May-.pdf
- The Conversation, “Refugees Tell Stories of Problems – and Unity – in Facing the Coronavirus,” 30 April 2020, https://theconversation.com/refugees-tell-stories-of-problems-and-unity-in-facing-the-coronavirus-136925
- Refugees in their Beds at the Refugee Tent Camp in Thisted, Northern Jutland, Denmark in 2016, (Sara Gangsted/EPA, “Denmark refugees feel left out from lauded coronavirus policies,” AlJazeera, 6 April 2020, https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/denmark-refugees-feel-left-lauded-coronavirus-policies-200403131644645.html)