Denmark extends block on UN quota refugees

Denmark’s minister for immigration Inger Støjberg has announced a continuation of the government’s policy not to accommodate UN-stipulated quota refugees.

Denmark extends block on UN quota refugees
Inger Støjberg. Photo: Jens Dresling/Polfoto/Ritzau

A parliamentary majority including the opposition Social Democrats – but without the populist Danish People’s Party – supports Støjberg’s law proposal, which would see Denmark refuse 500 UN quota refugees in 2018, a continuation of the country’s policy in 2016 and 2017.

Lawmakers in Denmark's parliament began on Tuesday the process of passing a law which would continue the policy of not accepting UN quota refugees.

The proposal has been criticised for adding pressure on countries bordering conflict areas, including Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon, which already accommodate large numbers of refugees.

The UN has encouraged EU countries, including Denmark, to ease the burden on countries such as these by accepting its quota for relocation.

The quota system enables the UN to relocate refugees whose needs cannot be met in countries that neighbour the conflicts they have fled from.

This might include refugees needing special protection, torture victims, unaccompanied women or children with rare illnesses.

Denmark is currently the only UN country currently refusing to accept quota refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

“We have paused [the UN quota refugee programme] because we need to be able to keep up. We simply need breathing space,” Støjberg said on Tuesday.

The minister denied that asylum seeker figures in Denmark, which are now at their lowest lever for nine years, constituted that ‘breathing space’.

“We have a very, very low refugee flow to Denmark. We have not seen a lower number in the last nine years, so there is no doubt that the [immigration] curbs we have introduced have worked,” she said.

“But there are still too few providing for themselves. So that is one of the relevant factors,” she added.

The minister added that the issue of taking in UN quota refugees would be reassessed by the government “year by year”.

She also said that a successor to her post in any future left-wing government would not be able change Denmark’s position on quota refugees without first “asking parliament”.

That aspect of the proposal was the basis for the lack of support for the motion from anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, said Martin Henriksen, the immigration spokesperson for that party.

“The proposed law leaves a number of interpretations possible,” Henriksen said.

Henriksen’s opposite number in the Social Democrats – who voted in favour of Støjberg’s proposal not to accommodate quota refugees – said that a future government led by his party could consider reversing the decision.

“A Social Democrat government could well take in quota refugees. That also forms part of the proposal: that any minister can assess it,” Mattias Tesfaye told newspaper Politiken.

Tesfaye added that the extended refusal to take in quota refugees was a “temporary measure, that we have supported this year and next year.”

The MP also told the newspaper that his position was not in conflict with party leader Mette Fredriksen’s previous statements confirming that her party would not seek to relax immigration laws should it lead the government after the next election.

READ ALSO: 'Good time to take in your share of refugees': UN to Denmark


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.