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Controversial email changes nothing: Danish immigration minister Støjberg

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Controversial email changes nothing: Danish immigration minister Støjberg
Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg. File photo: Ida Guldbæk Arentsen/Ritzau Scanpix
13:18 CET+01:00
Denmark’s minister for immigration Inger Støjberg has played down the significance of an email which appears to undermine her explanation of an illegal asylum directive issued by her ministry.

The minister spoke on Friday morning at a parliamentary hearing over a 2017 directive to separate married asylum seekers under the age of 18 from their partners.

The hearing was called by opposition parties after the release last month of a 2016 email exchange which appeared to shed new light on explanations previously given by the minister over the asylum directive, which was later found to be illegal.

“I don’t think that the email adds or subtracts anything from the basis on which the (parliamentary) ombudsman made his decision,” the minister said at Friday’s hearing.

“I have never ever asked for conventions to be skirted around,” she added.

The new scrutiny on Støjberg revolves around an email exchange in which former Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen) director Henrik Grunnet appears to write that the authority was advised to separate all asylum seeker couples whereby one partner was under 18 years of age.

The authority was not advised of any possible exceptions to that instruction, according to the email exchange.

"The meeting I attended in the ministry left no doubt as to her [Støjberg, ed.] position on this issue -- regardless of the (UN) Convention on the Rights of the Child, if the pair have children," Grunnet wrote in the February 10th, 2016 email.

Grunnet was writing in response to a previous email in the chain which stated that the immigration ministry's message in an upcoming press statement would be that "no minors under the age of 18 will be allowed to live with their spouse".

The subject of the email is "Re: Støjberg: NO child bride may live with spouse".

That is in conflict with explanations previously given by Støjberg over the 2016 directive.

During parliamentary hearings in 2017, Støjberg said that a press statement that did not provide for individual case assessments or consultations with affected parties was mistakenly used as a directive.

“In relation to individual assessment being undertaken prior to separation of the couple, [the law] was [upheld]. Regarding consultations, it was not. Consultations did not begin until April 28th (2016),” Støjberg said during a parliamentary consultation on June 23rd, 2017.

The original directive given in early 2016 to separate the relevant couples was later found by parliament's ombudsman to be illegal, because it did not make clear the requirement for case-by-case assessment.

Both Danish and international law states that all cases must be assessed individually, and all parties in individual cases must be consulted before couples are forcibly separated.

Couples were illegally separated in 2016 as a result of the directive.

The email exchange became public last month, when it was published by Dagbladet Information.

Opposition MPs including Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of the Red-Green Alliance and Sofie Carsten Nielsen of the Social Liberal (Radikale Venstre) parties stressed their suspicions that Støjberg attempted to push through forced separation of couples without respecting their rights to individual case assessments.

But the minister said during the hearing that the mail exchange was part of the Immigration Service’s internal correspondence regarding how the directive would be presented to the media.

She cited the explanation already given by the agency to parliament’s ombudsman.

“The agency emphasised here that the email was neither a record of a meeting nor an expression of the agency’s legal considerations,” she said.

Støjberg also denied that the Ministry of Immigration and Integration attempted to cover up the email exchange, given that it was not initially handed over to the independent parliamentary official.

“The department did not receive or see these emails. It was the Immigration Service which, in 2017, decided whether the email should be sent to the ombudsman,” she said.

“I was not aware of the content of this email prior to the beginning of February,” she added.

READ ALSO: Denmark's immigration minister faces new scrutiny over illegal asylum directive

 

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