‘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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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.


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.