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IMMIGRATION

New Danish asylum curb could restrict refugee access to medicine and dental care

A proposed tightening of immigration rules could have a significant impact on refugees' ability to pay unforeseen costs of vital services like medicine and healthcare.

New Danish asylum curb could restrict refugee access to medicine and dental care
Parliament during a meeting earlier this month. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The Danish government’s projected ‘paradigm change’ in asylum policy could reduce the access of refugees to vital economic support in paying for medicines and other necessary one-off costs.

Several organisations have advised against changing a current scheme which enables municipalities to provide subsidies for specific, often unforeseen costs incurred by hard-up refugees, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reports.

The Danish Refugee Council (Dansk Flygtningehjælp) has said that the proposal, which underwent the first round of political process in parliament on Thursday, would “limit individual refugees’ ability to get help” with the costs of medicine, dental care and other “necessary one-off costs”.

The bill also provides for a 2,000-kroner reduction in benefits payments to refugees who provide for dependents.

“This will affect a group which is already economically pressed to its absolute limits,” the Danish Red Cross wrote in a response to the hearing stage of the bill procedure.

Current rules enable refugees, like other people living in Denmark, to apply for assistance in covering the costs of specific one-off costs that they cannot afford themselves. Half of the money provided by municipalities in such instances is directly refunded by the state.

But the proposed new legislation will change that by providing for a block subsidy only, paid by the state to municipalities for extra financial assistance to refugees.

That means that municipalities will no long be certain of receiving the same state subsidies for the payments as before and may thereby have to change their policies.

Meanwhile, another element of the bill, which cuts integration benefits paid to refugee families.

“Put succinctly, this is making things harder for the people who are already struggling the most,” Danish Institute for Human Rights director Jonas Christoffersen told Jyllands-Posten.

Martin Henriksen, immigration spokesperson with the Danish People’s Party, told the newspaper he hoped the result of the new legislation would be fewer subsidies for refugees.

“Since we have cut benefits to refugees [via previous reforms, ed.], we have got the impression that some municipalities have compensated for some of the reduction by giving these subsidies. We want that stopped,” Henriksen said.

“We are not interested in letting municipalities, with 50 percent economic support from the state, conduct local politics that contradict national policy on foreigners,” he added.

In written comments provided to Jyllands-Posten, immigration minister Inger Støjberg did not directly answer whether she expected the bill to result in municipalities providing fewer subsidies to refugees, the newspaper writes.

But Støjberg’s ministry confirmed that savings are expected to be made through the change, the report adds.

The term ‘paradigm shift’ has been used to refer to a change in approach to asylum policy, initially driven by the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, reflecting the view that the status of refugees should always be considered as temporary, and that their status should be revoked as soon as conditions in origin countries are deemed to enable this.

That means less emphasis in general on assisting refugees to integrate, which would aid their long-term prospects in Danish society.

The bill that provides for the new rule change is scheduled for its second and third parliamentary procedures in February, following normal process in Denmark for passing legislation.

It was contained in the budget agreed between the government and Danish People’s Party in November last year and is expected to be voted through.

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IMMIGRATION

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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