Former minister ‘misled’ Danish parliament in scandal over illegal asylum directive

The former minister of immigration and integration, Inger Støjberg, misled parliament after she issued an illegal order to separate certain married couples at asylum centres, an official enquiry has found.

Former minister 'misled' Danish parliament in scandal over illegal asylum directive
Former immigration minister Inger Støjberg. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

The partial conclusions of the so-called Instrukskommission (Directive Commission) were published on Monday and state that parliament was given “an incorrect or misleading description of the course of events which the commission has established”.

The enquiry relates to Støjberg’s illegal 2016 order to separate all married couples at Danish asylum centres if one of the couple was under the age of 18.

The directive ordered authorities to forcibly separate married couples given asylum in Denmark without individual case assessment, provided one of the couple was under 18 years old.

The order was later found to be illegal by parliament's ombudsman, since it did not provide for individual case assessments or consultations with affected parties. Støjberg faced a series of testing parliamentary hearings over it in 2017.

“The Commission has found that the description of the administration which took place in the immigration service based on the directive – namely as far as the administration is concerned, in January and February and part of March 2016, when most of the couples were separated – was incorrect,” the commission summary states.

READ ALSO: Syrian couple may start legal proceedings over illegal Støjberg directive 

“However, the Commission has not found sufficient basis to certify that Inger Støjberg, at the times she described this administration, was aware that the description was incorrect,” it continues.

A further conclusion of the report is that the former minister, during the parliamentary hearings, “gave a different impression of the directive as it was communicated to the (immigration) service than was the case (in reality)”.

Støjberg is also criticised by the enquiry for giving a “misleading” account of the impact of the directive on affected refugees in Denmark.

“The Commission has further found that Inger Støjberg’s reference to four girls who were ‘rescued’ by the change in practice was misleading and contributed to a representation of the effects of the scheme which were not supported by the circumstances in the (personal) cases,” it states.

Officials working under the auspices of Støjberg’s ministry played a key part in interviews conducted by the Commission. A full conclusion as to the level of culpability of ministry officials is expected next year, Ritzau writes.

The Commission is not tasked with providing a verdict in the investigation. Parliament can decide to bring a case against Støjberg based on the summary provided by the enquiry, however.

Støjberg, now the deputy leader of the Venstre (Liberal) party in opposition, has, since the scandal broke, sought to characterise the illegal directive as an attempt to rescue child brides from forced marriages with much older husbands. But that in itself is not a faithful characterisation, as media reports involving affected couples have demonstrated.

She has used unrelated photos of arranged marriages in social media posts about the enquiry, commentators have observed. The Twitter post below compares a photo of one of the couples separated by the illegal order with a photo used by Støjberg on social media, which uses a cover from a book about child brides.

The former minister could avoid consequences from within her own party regardless of the parliamentary outcome, according to an analyst.

“If this had been any other party, it would probably have resulted in her having to step down. But Inger Støjberg has taken the Liberals hostage on this issue,” Jarl Cordua, a Liberal party member and political commentator told Ritzau.

“Many people just don’t care what conclusions the Commission comes out with. For them, this case is about child brides and not a lot elsen” Cordua added.

The party would now have to choose between “calm in the ranks or the rule of law”, he added.

On Facebook, Støjberg wrote on Monday that the summary proved she “did not (knowingly) issue an illegal directive”, but recognised “mistakes” had been made.

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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.