Why has Denmark named a controversial new ‘migration ambassador’?

Denmark on Thursday announced the appointment of a special ambassador for migration, tasked with trying to establish camps for asylum seekers outside the EU.

Why has Denmark named a controversial new 'migration ambassador'?
Children play outside the tents at a migrant and refugee camp where cases affected by the COVID-19 were detected, on the Greek mediterranean island of Lesbos, on May 13, 2020. AFP

The ambassador's mission will be to knock on doors to find non-EU countries willing to host so-called reception centres abroad to house asylum seekers while their applications are processed.

“An ambassador for migration can help open the door for Denmark's proposal for a new approach to stop the migration pressure on Europe and ensure that real refugees are helped faster and better in the surrounding areas,” Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement.

For Copenhagen, it is meant to discourage migrants from applying for asylum in Denmark, but also to “strengthen the EU's external borders, improve the deportation of rejected asylum seekers and strengthen asylum and migration authorities in third countries along migration routes,” a government statement said.

The ambassador will be Anders Tang Friborg. Together with a task force from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, he will both push for reception centres outside the EU and improve the opportunities for repatriating rejected asylum seekers. 

It was in 2018 that Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, before she became Prime Minister, launched the idea of ​​slowing down the flow of migration to Europe by creating reception centres and help in non-EU areas.

However, the plan has been subject to criticism both at home and across the EU.

“I do not think it is a realistic idea. We need to manage migration. It is urgent that we need a new pact that can be accepted by all member states”, said EU Refugee Commissioner Ylva Johansson in December 2019 about the government's plans. 

In January, Danish newspaper Berlingske, quoted Foreign Affairs and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye as saying that no countries had been found ready to set up a reception centre. 

“Unfortunately no. I would very much like to say that we have been in dialogue with a third country which said that they would like a reception centre, but no one has said that to us”, he said. 

Germany and France were also critical of the idea at the time. However, the government has maintained the plan. In the past, the government has pointed to reception centres in, for example, Libya, Tunisia or Morocco.

In 2019, a total of 2,716 people applied for asylum in Denmark, the lowest figure since 2008.

In 2015, in the midst of the migration crisis, more than 21,000 people applied, though that was only an eighth of the number for neighbouring Sweden. 



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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.