15 January 2016

The Danish Parliament debated this week a new bill that would further restrict the asylum space in the country: the proposed law will among other things authorise police to search belongings of refugees and asylum seekers and seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (around 1,400€) to contribute to the cost of their stay in the country.

An earlier draft of the law envisioned the confiscation of valuables of over 400€, but the criticism raised by the first proposal led the government to change the limit and to exclude items of sentimental values, such as medals or wedding rings, from the belongings that could be confiscated.

An even more alarming part of the proposed bill is the amendment to family reunification procedures for persons with temporary protection status, which would require a waiting period of three years before the process can be initiated, as opposed to one year under current legislation. According to the Danish Institute for Human Rights, such change constitutes a violation of refugees’ human rights, and would be a solid basis to allege a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Such concerns are shared by Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Nils Muižnieks, who sent a letter to the Danish Minister for Immigration expressing his worries about the new amendments being discussed. “Family reunification is one of the avenues that should be made available to refugees to obtain international protection in Denmark safely and legally, thereby enabling these persons to avoid risking their lives or going through very difficult journeys and seeking the help of smugglers to reach safety,” he stated.

“The bill should unfortunately be seen in the light of the race to the bottom we are seeing in Europe at the moment, where most countries are taking part in a negative competition to try to look as unattractive for asylum seekers as possible. We think that the proposal to prolong family reunification waiting periods is inhumane, because it will have huge consequences for refugees coming to Denmark” stated ECRE member Danish Refugee Council.

These restrictions to the right of asylum are the latest in a series of measures adopted by the country to deter more people from coming: in September the Danish government decided to place adverts in Lebanese newspapers to inform potential refugees that the benefits have been halved, and last week it re-instated border controls with Germany.

Moreover, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen recently called for an amendment of the UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees if Europe is unable to manage the high numbers of refugees arriving. The call caused a wave of backlash among UN officials. “We are seeing a derogation from the responsibility to protect, at a time when more and more people are in need. We need to strengthen our unity in the EU and UN when addressing the refugee situation not the opposite,” says Secretary General of The Danish Refugee Council, Andreas Kamm.  

Though the bill proposal will be voted on 26 January, it is believed that Parliament secured a strong majority which would imply its adoption.

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This article appeared in the ECRE Weekly Bulletin of 15 January 2016. You can subscribe to the Weekly Bulletin here.