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Denmark’s offshoring refugees

There seems to be an odd correlation between second-generation migrants who become Ministers, no matter their party, and the adoption of measures to clamp down on migration.

In the UK the Home Secretary Priti Patel set some of the strictest requirements to apply for work in Great Britain. Perhaps more shockingly, the Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration – Mattias Tesfaye – recently proposed and obtained from the Parliament a bill requiring all applicants for refugee status in Denmark to be relocated in a non-European country, preferably in Africa, while their situation is assessed. Furthermore, even if one is granted some form of international protection, she is not guaranteed to be transferred on Danish soil, as she might remain in a third-party country deemed to be safe by the Danish government. Admittedly, for now it is unclear which countries will accept the deal, even though there are negotiations in place with Rwandan authorities to set up processing facilities and safehouses for asylum seekers on their territory.

Regardless of the place where migrants will be relocated, the purpose of the Danish government is specifically to keep migrants away from Denmark, because the country wishes to fulfill the quota agreed upon in the UNHCR Resettlement Strategy and go no further.

Despite the broad support from Danish MPs (70 out of 94 then present in the Folketing, the Danish Parliament), there were a number of controversies, mostly with civil rights organizations. First of all, this bill, an amendment to a comprehensive range of migration policies known as the Danish Aliens Act, was proposed by the Socialist Democratic Party but received the enthusiast endorsement of major right-winged parties, most relevantly the Danish People’s Party, a notorious anti-immigration and anti-Islam political force.

Secondly, domestic and international commentators alike were quick to recall some resemblances with Italy’s collusion with the former Libyan prime minister Al-Sarraj in setting up migrant detention camps in Libya, where plenty of human rights violations have been documented since 2017. Truth be told, the Danish initiative would allegedly transfer many asylum seekers from such camps to the more secure ones in a third country. Nevertheless, the Danish Refugee Council – a leading NGOs in humanitarian efforts – has claimed that this policy will at least be comparable to the migrant hotspots on Greek islands or the Australian ones in small Pacific insular nations, where asylum seekers are indefinitely kept in abusive conditions threatening their physical and mental health. Hence, both the EU and the UNHCR have expressed their concern, citing the possible conflict between the Danish Aliens Act and EU’s aim to harmonize asylum policies, on top of a possible race to the bottom on asylum seekers allocation.

Nevertheless, what amounts to offshoring migrant processing and safeguarding is not an unprecedented move for Danish Social Democratic governments. Similar attempts at stemming the migration flow have become commonplace since the Social Democratic Party lost in the 2015 elections. On the one hand conservative parties hold liberal positions with regards to civil and economic rights. On the other hand, social democratic and progressive parties across Northern Europe have recently adopted more stringent migration policies than what is typically associated with them. Especially in Denmark, mainstream progressive formations began drawing their migration policies from right-winged parties, adopting ever-stricter measures, targeted mainly at Muslim communities. A centrist cabinet in 2018 introduced the so-called ‘no ghetto laws’, capping the non-Western population to 50% in communities over a certain threshold in unemployment, crime rates, education and income.

Thus, many were displaced and assigned a new house, often away from urban centers. The blatant aim was to avoid the formation of parallel societies especially within Muslim-dominated enclaves, whose dwellers sometimes speak little Danish and prefer informal and in-group education to formal one. Again, although the inflow of asylum seekers dropped significantly in the last years, in early 2021 Denmark went to the extent of revoking refugee status to 200 Syrian refugees, on the grounds that the Syrian regions where they come from is now safe and they can return there. Obviously, decisions such as this are met with strenuous resistance, because most people eventually managed to rebuild their lives in Denmark after bearing persecution and violence from extremists and the Syrian government alike.

In just a handful of years, Denmark has shaped its reputation as one of Europe’s harshest approach towards non-EU migrants, joining none other than Orban’s Hungary in declaring that some Syrian refugees should return to their country. Already in the near future Denmark’s hardline stance on migration policy might become a nuisance comparable to Visegrad’s complaints on any EU-wide migrant redistributive effort.

Author: Ludovico Campagnolo


UK Requirements to apply for a job:

Danish bill on asylum seekers:

Italian camps in Lybia:

Danish Refugee Council, EU and UNHCR comment on Danish migration policies:

Denmark’s troubles with migration since 2015:

Denmark revoking refugee status for nearly 200 Syrians:

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