Denmark makes ‘positive steps’ toward integration

A major report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance has gives Denmark high marks for acting on two recommendations for improving integration.

Denmark makes ‘positive steps’ toward integration
Distortion in multicultural Nørrebro. Photo: Mathias Løvgreen Bojesen/Scanpix
In the past three years, Denmark has taken steps in the right direction to improve integration, a report from the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) concluded. 
The ECRI is the human rights body of the Council of Europe, an international organization that promotes co-operation between 47 European countries. Unlike the European Union, it cannot make binding laws, but regularly makes recommendations following research by panels of independent experts.
In 2012, it issued a report suggesting three key ways Denmark could improve integration over the next two years: revamping its family reunification rules, ensuring funding for NGOs working on anti-discrimination measures and diversifying the nation’s police force. 
In a news release on Tuesday, the ECRI said that Denmark had fully or partially implemented two of those recommendations.
On the issue of family reunification, the ECRI in 2012 encouraged Denmark to “remove any elements which amount to direct or indirect discrimination”. Since then, the Danish government has not implemented any sweeping reforms for the family reunification scheme. The most significant change in the area was announced last year, when the government decided to make it harder for refugees to bring their family members to Denmark. 
The restrictions on family reunification for refugees has been roundly criticized by human rights organizations like Amnesty International and the UN Refugee Agency, which which warned that Denmark risks violating international laws with the measures
The ECRI had a better take on “the positive steps” that Denmark has taken in response to the suggestion to ensure funding for NGOs that work on anti-racism and pro-inclusion projects. 
The report pointed to a series of initiatives aimed at welcoming foreigners and integrating them into Danish society, including projects run by the Danish Red Cross and Danish Refugee Council. 
“Although these projects have not been fully implemented yet, as they cover the period of 2014-16, ECRI considers that they are evidence of a move in the right direction,” the report stated. 
The ECRI also had praise for the efforts of the Danish National Police (Rigspolitiet) to encourage more ethnic minorities to join the police force.
“ECRI has been informed that the Danish National Police intensified its efforts and took a number of initiatives to increase diversity in policing,” the report said. 
The report praised the diversity strategy adopted by the police in cooperation with the Danish Institute of Human Rights and a new “employer branding strategy” aimed at getting the Danish police force to be more ethnically representative of the country’s population. 
The ECRI singled out an effort in Aalborg that brought together police officers and the local integration council to educate the immigrant community about the work of Danish police officers and the “importance of contributing to a diversified police force”. Aarhus will also soon implement the same programme. 
“ECRI views these steps as positive measures, which are evidence of sincere efforts to diversify the police force,” the report said. 

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.