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Denmark’s asylum debate takes centre stage

A series of theatre performances featuring actual asylum seekers aims to challenge popular opinions about refugees.

Denmark's asylum debate takes centre stage
Welcome to Denmark. Photo: Adrian Joachim/Politiken Live
The number of people seeking asylum in Denmark doubled in 2014 and Europe as a whole is facing one of the largest influxes of refugees in history, re-igniting the debate over who should be granted asylum and who should not.
 
For some would-be refugees who make it to Denmark, the criteria for their acceptance is a straight-forward application of Danish laws and international conventions. But many cases go beyond legal criteria and come down to the the stories told by each individual asylum seeker. 
 
The theatre performance collective Paradox Intertainment is putting on a 'documentary theatre production' to shine a spotlight on this dilemma by staging four shows that will give viewers the opportunity to experience the asylum system from the inside out.
 
In 'Welcome to Denmark', four actual asylum seekers will tell their individual stories and express their reasons for seeking refuge in Denmark. The four cases will be used to put human faces on an asylum debate that has largely turned into discussions about raw numbers and quotas.
 
After the asylum seekers tell their stories, there will be a dramatic reconstruction of the difficult decisions that the Danish Refugee Appeals Board (Flygtningenævnet) has to make when evaluating the merits of each individual case. 
 
“For the refugee board, they have to look at trustworthiness and they only have a little amount of time to hear the story and consider all of the issues,” Paradox Intertainment spokeswoman Henriette Kudsk told The Local. 
 
“We don’t have a political motive, we just want to show how difficult it is for everybody in this field to decide who will get asylum or not,” she added. 
 
The productions will begin on May 13th with the story of Asif Danishyar, a former Afghan interpreter for Norwegian forces who has applied for asylum in Denmark. Subsequent productions will revolve around a Ugandan fleeing persecution over sexual orientation, an Iranian seeking asylum on religious grounds and a Syrian who fled that country's long and brutal civil war. 
 
Dates for the four productions are May 13 and 19, June 2 and June 6. All will be held at Politikens Hus at Rådhuspladsen 37 in central Copenhagen and the productions will be a mixture of Danish and English.
 
More information on Welcome to Denmark can be found here and here (in Danish only)  

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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.

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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.

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