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IMMIGRATION

Denmark’s parliament passes ‘paradigm change’ asylum bill

New legislation providing for what has been described by its proponents as a ‘paradigm shift’ in Denmark’s refugee and asylum policy was passed by parliament on Thursday.

Denmark’s parliament passes 'paradigm change' asylum bill
File photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The government, the Danish People’s Party and the Social Democrats all voted in favour of the legislation, which has been the subject of criticism by humanitarian organisations.

A key aspect of the bill is its shift in focus from integration to future repatriation in Denmark’s approach to those who seek refuge in the country, including UN quota refugees and others who do not have permanent status.

READ ALSO: Denmark's government changes policy on UN quota refugees with new bill

Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg said that she did not know how many refugees would be sent to home countries as a result of the new legislation.

“We expect a tangible effect. But this is obviously not something we can put a figure on,” she said in parliament.

The Social Democrats, the largest opposition party, voted in favour of the bill despite having stated they did not agree with parts of it, such as a reduction in a social welfare benefit, integrationsydelsen, which people granted asylum are given.

Mattias Tesfaye, who is the party’s spokesperson for immigration, said he supported the general concept of moving towards a temporary status for all refugees.

“People will be given the more honest message that their stay in Denmark is temporary,” Tesfaye said.

Other opposition parties were critical of the new rules.

“The essence of this is about making life harder and more unpleasant for people who have come here to escape Assad’s barrel bombs and the sex slavery and terror of Islamic State,” Red-Green Alliance spokesperson Pelle Dragsted said.

Støjberg compared disagreement between opposition parties over asylum and refugees to an “abyss”.

“It is utterly clear that, if there is a (left wing) majority after the (general) election [to be held no later than June this year, ed.], then immigration will become a battlefield and risks sinking into chaos,” the minister said.

The ‘paradigm shift’ is a term used to describe government and Danish People’s Party policy and law changes which have sought to reduce the number of refugees who remain in Denmark permanently. Around 90 percent currently do so after being given asylum, Ritzau writes.

Refugees should be sent home when conditions in their countries of origin are deemed safe enough for this to occur, according to the policy.

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

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POLITICS

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.

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