Denmark has entered talks with Rwanda to establish a deal similar to the controversial one Rwanda made with the United Kingdom in mid-April concerning the transfer of asylum seekers to the country. Denmark’s immigration minister said that the deal would “ensure a more dignified approach than the criminal network of human traffickers that characterises migration across the Mediterranean today.”
While these talks came after the UK’s agreement with Rwanda, Denmark had already approached several countries both in and outside the European Union about an asylum deal last year. In June 2021, Denmark and Rwanda signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration that, inter alia, envisaged the transfer and processing of asylum seekers. Denmark also passed a law enabling it to process asylum seekers outside Europe. However, the European Union argues that the “external processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection. It is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the new pact for migration and asylum.”
In May 2021, Denmark was heavily criticised by EU lawmakers, the UNHCR, and human rights groups as it became the first European country to revoke residence status for more than 200 Syrian refugees, claiming that parts of Syria were now safe enough for refugees to return. Between May 2020 and May 2021, the Danish immigration service reassessed the cases of more than 1,200 refugees from the wider Damascus region stating that the “conditions in Damascus in Syria are no longer so serious that there are grounds for granting or extending temporary residence permits.” From January 2021 to May 2021, the Danish immigration service assessed 300 cases, with around half resulting in new or extended permits; 154 refugees had their status revoked or not renewed, in addition to the 100 who had it withdrawn in 2020. In 2020, Denmark accommodated 36,643 refugees, 1,331 asylum seekers, and 11,655 stateless persons residing in the country.
Denmark has controversially advanced a “zero asylum seekers” policy. In January 2021, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen told Parliament that she wants no asylum seekers at all coming to Denmark: “We cannot promise zero asylum seekers, but we can set up that vision, as we did before the elections.” Last year, Denmark received the lowest number of asylum seekers since 1998, with 1,547 people applying in contrast with 21,316 applications in 2015.
However, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Denmark has revealed a double standard in its treatment of refugees. Ukrainians that arrive in Denmark are to be granted a permit for a minimum of two years, while the country has revoked Syrian refugees’ permits and has only granted protection to three percent of all Afghan refugees that made applications in 2021. Most Ukrainians are staying in private homes temporarily and others are being accommodated by municipalities in sports facilities, closed schools, and military barracks. According to the Danish immigration service, as of 25 March 2022, some 28,000 people had arrived from Ukraine. Approximately 2,000 had applied for asylum and are staying in asylum centres while 750 had been granted protection. Denmark is planning to open four medical clinics that will focus on treating Ukrainian refugees offering services such as the renewal of prescription drugs for chronic illnesses, prenatal care, as well as offer vaccines including the COVID-19 vaccine.
The Danish immigration service decides where asylum seekers are accommodated. There are different centres with distinct functions. For instance, asylum seekers may first be accommodated at the Sandholm reception centre, and subsequently, while their asylum case is pending, they may be moved to one of the accommodation centres in Jutland. However, if the immigration service deems that an asylum seeker is not cooperative or if an application is rejected, they may be moved to return centres such as Avnstrup (for families), Sjaelsmark or Kaershovedgard. These facilities do not operate as detention centres because, while detainees are obliged to stay overnight, they can leave the facility during the day. Nonetheless, absence for a few days is punished with detention at the closed Ellebaek centre for foreigners. Asylum seekers can also be detained in the Ellebaek centre awaiting forced deportation. About half of the centres are run by the Danish Red Cross and local municipalities run the others.
The Danish Prison and Probation Service runs the return centres of Sjaelsmark and Kaershovedgard as well as the Ellebaek centre. According to a 2021 report by Refugees.dk, in both deportation centres, Kaershovedgard and Sjaelsmark, detainees can be held indefinitely if it is impossible to return them to their countries. The Kaershovedgard centre is 7km away from the nearest public transport and used to be a prison while the Sjaelsmark lies 2km from the centre of Sandholm.
In January 2020, the Committee on the Prevention of Torture published a report criticising the conditions in Ellebaek prison. The CPT delegation were informed of one allegation of excessive use of force and several allegations of verbal abuse by staff, including racist remarks. In addition, female migrants were only allowed to go outside for around 30 minutes per day and detainees did not have access to their mobile phones or internet services. While the rooms were found to be of sufficient size to accommodate detainees, they were in poor conditions, with graffiti covering the walls, flaking paint and/or crumbling plaster. The bathroom units were also in poor condition and the shower rooms were covered with mould. Amongst other recommendations, the CPT called upon the Danish authorities to ensure that the centres are in a decent state of repair, clean, and adequately furnished.
- Skydsgaard, N. “Denmark Passes Law to Process Asylum Seekers Outside Europe,” Reuters, 3 June 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/denmark-agrees-law-deport-asylum-seekers-outside-europe-2021-06-03/
- Reuters, “Denmark in Talks with Rwanda on Transfer of Asylum-Seekers,” 20 April 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/denmark-talks-with-rwanda-transfer-asylum-seekers-2022-04-20/
- Murray, A. “Denmark Asylum: The Syrian Refugees No Longer Welcome to Stay,” BBC News, 19 May 2021, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-57156835
- Bendixen, M. C. “Asylum Centres and Prison,” Refugees.dk, 26 June 2021, http://refugees.dk/en/facts/the-asylum-procedure-in-denmark/asylum-centers-and-prison/
- Council of Europe, “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,” CPT/Inf (2019) 35, 7 January 2020, https://rm.coe.int/1680996859
- MacGregor, M. “Denmark Aims for Zero Asylum Seekers,” Infomigrants, 25 January 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/29842/denmark-aims-for-zero-asylum-seekers
- Mellersh, N. “Denmark Open to Medical Clinics for Ukrainian Refugees,” Infomigrants, 20 April 2022, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/39979/denmark-to-open-medical-clinics-for-ukrainian-refugees
- Schengenvisainfo.com, “Denmark Had a Goal of Zero Asylum Seekers Until Ukraine was Invaded by Russia,” 31 March 2022, https://www.schengenvisainfo.com/news/denmark-had-a-goal-of-zero-asylum-seekers-until-ukraine-was-invaded-by-russia/
- UNHCR, “Refugee Data Finder: Denmark,” accessed on 26 April 2022, https://www.unhcr.org/refugee-statistics/
- Police Officers Walk the Danish-German Border (Claus Fisker/Scanpix Denmark, “Denmark Passes Law to Process Asylum Seekers Outside Europe,” Reuters, 3 June 2021, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/denmark-agrees-law-deport-asylum-seekers-outside-europe-2021-06-03/)