‘Unacceptable for people’: Danish asylum centre slammed in anti-torture report

The Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture published on Tuesday a highly critical report on a detention centre in Denmark.

'Unacceptable for people': Danish asylum centre slammed in anti-torture report
File photo: Ida Marie Odgaard/Ritzau Scanpix

The committee called the centre at Ellebæk in North Zealand “unacceptable for people”.

The Strasbourg-based European Committee for the Prevention of Torture (CPT) is the anti-torture committee of the Council of Europe.

The report is based on visits to Ellebæk and other detention centres including Nykøbing Falster Arrest.

Both facilities house migrants who are under arrest based on Denmark’s immigration laws (Udlændingeloven), but not for committing crimes.

In the report on Denmark, which was published on Tuesday, the CPT calls Ellebæk one of the worst facilities of its kind in Europe.

“In our view it is unacceptable to keep people in (prison)-like conditions and furthermore with (poor) sanitary conditions and bad hygiene,” Hans Wolff, the leader of a delegation which visited Ellebæk in April last year, told TV2.

“There are a lot of reasons why Denmark is proud of its human rights (record), but when you come to these places and you find such appalling conditions then one might question either the capability of Denmark to do it better or maybe the will of Denmark to do it in such a bad way,” he added.

“It is not compatible with human rights to keep people under such bad conditions in immigration detention centres,” Wolff also said.

Migrants at the two centres are not suspected or convicted of any crime, the report stresses.

One specific criticism in the report is of only 30 minutes’ daily access to outside exercise provided at Ellebæk.

Another involved punishment for use of mobile telephones.

Meanwhile, the use of restrainment was also criticized as potential abuse.

“The Committee expresses its serious misgivings that the application of the prison rules led to a situation where detained migrants who were found in possession of a mobile phone had to be punished by law with at least 15 days of solitary confinement,” the report states.

“Moreover, due to the lack of rip-proof clothing, detained migrants at risk of suicide were sometimes placed entirely naked in an observation room. The CPT considers that such a practice could amount to degrading treatment,” it also notes.

Ellebæk is used to place rejected asylum seekers who refuse to comply with their deportation. This may be due to their fears of persecution or because no repatriation arrangement exists between Denmark and their home country.

Danish authorities are not obliged to act upon the criticism, but CPT has nevertheless called for conditions to be changed or the migrants to be accommodated elsewhere.

The committee has asked Denmark to provide a response to the recommendations within three months.

Denmark’s immigration law, Udlændingeloven, provides for what is termed as “motivational detention” (“motivationsfremmende frihedsberøvelse”) of rejected asylum seekers in such cases.

“I find such measures [detention, ed.] necessary in relation to ensuring an efficient deportation system,” immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye told the parliamentary immigration committee in a written response last year.

READ ALSO: The middle of nowhere: Inside Denmark's Kærshovedgård deportation camp

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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.