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Danish parliament launches impeachment trial for ex-minister

Denmark's parliament on Tuesday referred a former minister to a rarely used special court over accusations that she broke the law when ordering the separation of asylum-seeking couples while in office.

Danish parliament launches impeachment trial for ex-minister
Inger Støjberg in parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The accusations against Inger Støjberg relate to a decision she made in 2016 as the Minister for Immigration.

Støjberg ordered immigration authorities to separate married couples if one of them was under the age of 18 in order to combat child marriages.

But according to the preliminary indictment passed in parliament on Tuesday, the decision constituted a “violation of the European Convention on Human Rights”.

This is only the third time since 1910 that a Danish politician has had to go before the country's Court of Impeachment, which tries ministers for malfeasance or negligence in the performance of their duties.

The last case was in 1993, dubbed “Tamilgate”, and was over the illegal freezing of family reunification for Tamil refugees. 

The decisions in 1987 and 1988 by former Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen landed him a four-month suspended prison sentence. 

In 2016, 23 migrant couples, most of whom had a small age difference between them, were separated without individual examination of their case following instructions from the minister.

Støjberg served as Minister for Immigration from 2015 to 2019 in a centre-right government propped up by the populist anti-immigration right Danish People's Party (DF).

She helped tighten Denmark's restrictive immigration policy and touted the adoption of more than 110 legal amendments restricting the rights of foreigners. 

As an aggravating circumstance, when questioned in the committee of enquiry, she allegedly gave “incorrect or misleading information”, the indictment noted. 

The member of parliament, who resigned her position as vice-president of the Liberal Party, has however stated that she is wrongly accused. 

“A large majority finds me guilty, but unlike you, I know that I did not order anything illegal,” she told parliament. 

“I intervened and did what I maintain was the only politically and humanely right thing to do,” she said. 

While a large majority of parliament supported the indictment, Støjberg still has supporters among some members of her party, as well as former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen and the two far-right parties DF and Nye Borgerlige (New Right).

The Court of Impeachment, consisting of up to 15 Supreme Court judges and a matching number of parliamentarians designated by parliament is expected to convene on the matter after the summer.

READ ALSO: Denmark’s former immigration minister to face impeachment trial

 

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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.

READ ALSO:

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.

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