Danish NGOs criticise ‘catastrophic’ aid cuts

The government wants to redirect one fifth of Denmark's foreign aid budget to housing and feeding refugees, but dozens of aid organisations have joined together to speak out against the 'politician-made catastrophe'.

Danish NGOs criticise 'catastrophic' aid cuts
Over 30 aid organisations have criticised redirecting foreign aid funds to the internal housing of refugees. Photo: Bulent Kilic/Scanpix
A proposal to cut 2.5 billion kroner ($420 million) from Denmark’s foreign aid budget is facing heavy criticism from more than 30 Danish NGOs. 
The government has said that the increasing number of asylum seekers coming to Denmark will result in an extra 4.5 billion kroner cost to the state and have proposed financing a large part of those costs through a cut in developmental aid sent abroad. 
That solution was heavily criticised by the government’s left-wing allies in the Socialist People’s Party and the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) and now an unprecedented number of Danish NGOs have banded together to speak out against using foreign aid to house refugees within Denmark. 
“The world doesn’t need another catastrophe and certainly not one created by politicians. But that is unfortunately what parliament is going to do with the government’s proposal to take 2.5 billion kroner from the world’s poorest people,” a joint advertisement signed by 33 Danish aid organisations that ran in the nation’s newspapers on Thursday reads. 
The advertisement is signed by major NGOs like Save the Children Denmark (Red Barnet), CARE Denmark, SOS Children’s Villages (SOS Børnebyerne) and ActionAid Denmark (Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke) and calls on readers to pressure the government to drop its proposal.
“Danish foreign aid is important in the fight against poverty and in ensuring education, democracy and human rights. If we fail to provide long-term help, it will have serious consequences,” the ad continues. 
Denmark’s foreign aid budget for 2014 is roughly 16 billion kroner ($2.7 billion), meaning the government’s proposal would take over one fifth of that money and redirect it to dealing with Denmark’s asylum influx. 
Development Minister Mogens Jensen has said that the move is both necessary and by the book. 
“It is standard practice that the costs of housing and feeding refugees in Denmark for the first year be charged against foreign aid funds,” Jensen said in a statement, adding that Sweden also spends one fifth of its foreign aid budget on refugees. 
The NGOs hope that their united campaign can get the government to reconsider.
"Show the politicians that you won't stand for taking money from the world's poorest and create yet another catastrophe," their message reads.
And it just might work. Mette Gjerskov, the deputy chairman of parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told Politiken that “no final decision has been made and politicians also read newspapers”. 

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Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.


Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.