On 25 January, Denmark announced that it was pausing its controversial plan to outsource asylum processing to Rwanda. However, the country has expressed its intention to collaborate with other EU states in establishing a processing facility outside Europe.
First proposed by the Social Democrat party in the run-up to the country’s 2019 general election, the “Rwanda Plan” foresaw “transferring” asylum seekers from Denmark to Rwanda, similar to plans pushed by the UK, where their applications would be processed. The plan, which drew inspiration from Australia’s controversial “Pacific Solution,” would have required Denmark to expand its deportation infrastructure–including expanding its immigration detention capacity and introducing a new form of deportation (“ledsaget tvangsmæssig overførsel” – or “accompanied forced transfer”). The Danish parliament passed Bill L226 in June 2021 amending the Aliens Act to allow for the transfer of asylum seekers to a third country outside of the EU for processing.
On 25 January, however, the country’s Minister of Immigration and Integration, Kaare Dybvad, told Altinget newspaper that the government was pausing its plans, saying: “We are not going ahead with that now.” Instead, Dybvad announced the government’s intention to cooperate with EU states in establishing processing facilities outside of Europe. He did not specify where. “Now we see more and more EU countries demanding radical action because they are being pressured by migration. That is why I think there is an EU way through this.”
The Social Democrats had previously rejected suggestions that they cooperate in “migration management” with other EU states, claiming that Brussels’ mechanisms work too slowly. Dybvad, however, highlighted the 2016 EU-Turkey Deal as an example of the EU finalising an agreement in a short space of time. (Under this deal, Turkey agreed to enact measures to stop migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from leaving its territory for the EU in return for significant EU financial support.) According to Dybvad, the Rwanda plan remains an option if “the other way turns out to be a dead end.”
Denmark’s plans to transfer asylum processing responsibilities to Rwanda have long been met with criticism. Domestically, the Social Democrats’ main ally – the Danish Social Liberal Party – made it clear that they would withdraw parliamentary support if the plan were implemented. It has also been heavily criticised by Danish church organizationa, and national and international NGOs, as well as at the EU and UN level.
Amongst concerns are Rwanda’s human rights record and its ability to offer an asylum procedure that adheres to international standards, and the fact that it clashes with asylum seekers’ fundamental right to apply for asylum and have their application processed upon arrival in a new country.
Successive Danish governments have pursued a hardline deterrence posture towards migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. Between 2015 and 2018, it adopted more than 70 legal amendments to tighten its immigration laws, and in 2019 it announced a goal of “zero asylum seekers.” In 2021, the country was widely condemned for its decision to consider Damascus, Syria, to be safe for returning rejected Syrian asylum applicants.
- On 9 September 2022, Denmark and Rwanda released a joint statement confirming the “Rwanda Plan,” Image Source – Twitter: https://twitter.com/RwandaMFA/status/1568210713578979330/photo/1
- E. Holstein, “En ren dansk Rwanda-model er sat på pause,” Altinget, 25 January 2023,
- Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Republic of Rwanda, “Joint statement on bilateral cooperation,” November 2022, https://um.dk/udenrigspolitik/aktuelle-emner/joint-statement-on-bilateral-cooperation
- InfoMigrants, “Denmark Seeks to Externalise Asylum Obligations to Rwanda,” 6 May 2021, https://www.infomigrants.net/en/post/32041/denmark-seeks-to-externalize-asylum-obligations-to-rwanda
- N. F. Tan and J. Vedsted-Hansen, “Denmark’s Legislation on Extraterritorial Asylum in Light of International and EU Law,” EU Immigration and Asylum Law and Policy, 15 November 2021, https://eumigrationlawblog.eu/denmarks-legislation-on-extraterritorial-asylum-in-light-of-international-and-eu-law/#:~:text=On%203%20 June%202021%2C%20 Denmark’s,refugees%20in%20the%20third%20country
- ECRE, “Op-Ed: Danish Externalization Desires and the Drive Towards Zero Asylum Seekers,” https://ecre.org/op-ed-danish-externalization-desires-and-the-drive-towards-zero-asylum-seekers/
- M. Olsen, “Asylum Deal with Rwanda Sparks Political Unrest in Denmark,” 26 September 2022, https://www.courthousenews.com/asylum-deal-with-rwanda-sparks-political-unrest-in-denmark/
- ECRE, “Denmark: Authorities Widen the Areas of Syria Considered Safe for Return to Include Greater Damascus,” 5 March 2021, https://ecre.org/denmark-authorities-widen-the-areas-of-syria-considered-safe-for-return-to-include-greater-damascus/
- Global Detention Project, “Immigration Detention in Denmark: Where Officials Cheer the Deprivation of Liberty of “Rejected Asylum Seekers,”” May 2018, https://www.globaldetentionproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/GDP-Immigration-Detention-in-Denmark-2018.pdf