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Denmark’s government changes policy on UN quota refugees with new bill

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Denmark’s government changes policy on UN quota refugees with new bill
Syrian refugees at the al-Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan. File photo: REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/Ritzau Scanpix
10:08 CET+01:00
The UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council have criticised the government for a new bill which seeks to ease the path to repatriation of UN quota refugees.

A new immigration bill seeks to apply the government’s general change in approach to giving asylum status to UN quota refugees, newspaper Politiken reports.

The bill provides for quota refugees to be subject to the same rules regarding their asylum status as all other types of refugees taken in by Denmark.

That means the application of the government's 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.

“We wish to send a very clear signal to refugees that, if you are given permission to stay in Denmark, this is temporary, and this also applies to quota refugees,” immigration minister Inger Støjberg said to the newspaper.

United Nations refugee agency UNHCR considers the proposal by the Danish government to be a break with the historical spirit of international participation in its refugee programme, although there are no legal obstacles to withdrawing the status of refugees if conditions in their home countries are considered peaceful, Politiken writes.

“The key aspect with regard to quota refugees is that this small group of refugees have come to Denmark via UNHCR’s quota programme, and there has been a general understanding that resettlement via the quota programme takes place with a view to a long-term and permanent resolution,” the agency spokesperson for Denmark Elisabeth Arnsdorf Haslund told the newspaper.

“It is also worth remembering that, before quota refugees come to Denmark, they have been through a thorough and comprehensive selection process and have been prepared for life in Denmark,” Haslund added.

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

The Danish Refugee Council’s head of asylum Eva Singer said in comments given to the paper that other countries generally perceived quota refugees to belong to a specially protected group who could consider their resettlement in a new country to be permanent.

“There has always been a near-unspoken perception of resettlement of quota refugees as a permanent resolution. This will change that,” Singer said.

Quota refugees are distributed by the UNHCR from refugee camps in areas close to conflict zones and therefore arrive in Denmark and other countries via a different route to those who make journeys to, for example, northern European countries.

Denmark has, since 2016, refused to take in any refugees under the UN quota system, with Støjberg saying the country needs to focus on integrating refugees recently arrived in the country.

Until 2016, Denmark received around 500 quota refugees per year from the UNHCR, before the government temporarily suspended Denmark’s participation. It extended that suspension in both 2017 and 2018.

Refugees who arrived under the quota scheme prior to its suspension, and any who come at a later date should Denmark resume its participation, would be considered to have been given temporary protection in the same way as all others granted asylum in the country, under the new proposal.

The term ‘paradigm shift' has been used to refer to the government's change in approach to asylum policy, initially driven by the anti-immigration Danish People's Party. The change reflects the view that all refugees should be seen as temporary guests and that less emphasis in general should be placed on assisting them to integrate, as this would aid their long-term prospects in Danish society.

The opposition Social Democrats generally support the ‘paradigm shift’ to considering all refugees as temporary, but the party’s immigration spokesperson Mattias Tesfaye said during the first round of parliamentary procedure of the bill that his party considered resettlement of quota refugees to be for “people who will stay in Denmark”.

The party, which takes a hard line on immigration similar to the government, has, however, confirmed it will vote for the bill.

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

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