Danish ministers visit Rwanda but stay quiet on agreement

Denmark’s immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye and international development minister Flemming Møller Mortensen travelled to Rwanda this week to sign an agreement with the Rwandan government.

Danish ministers visit Rwanda but stay quiet on agreement
Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye is one of two senior Danish government officials to take part in talks in Rwanda this week. Photo: Emil Helms/Ritzau Scanpix

The trip was not publicised by Copenhagen, but the ministers could be seen in photos tweeted by Rwanda’s foreign ministry.

Both Tesfaye and Mortensen have so far refused to comment on the details of the agreement, according to DR.

The Danish foreign ministry has, however, confirmed that the two countries have agreed to work more closely on asylum and migration, the broadcaster writes.

“This is not a case of a binding agreement, but a mutual framework for future partnership. The two governments will spend the coming period discussing concrete areas where the partnership can be strengthened,” the ministry wrote to DR.

The two Danish ministers have not given any comments to media in Denmark regarding the visit, which was scheduled to last four days, according to the ministry.

“We’re going to work together in different ways, and what’s going to happen next is to see together how we can start implementing what we have signed,” Mortensen said at a ceremony for the agreement, according to Rwandan newspaper The New Times.

The Rwandan media also writes that the agreement will “largely focus on promoting cooperation in political and migration issues”.

“This broad agreement will focus on global refugee issues, both in Rwanda and in other countries, including Denmark, and will return to other topics including investment, trade, sharing of climate change and technology,” Professor Manasseh Nshuti, Rwanda’s Minister of State in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the East African Community, said according to The New Times.

Although the content of the agreement is unclear, Denmark’s Social Democratic government has a long-standing desire to establish a reception centre for refugees in a third country.

“The two Danish ministers refuse to speak to the Danish press. We can therefore not get confirmation that the two sides have discussed – or agreed – that Rwanda will in future accept some of Denmark’s asylum seekers,” DR’s Africa correspondent Søren Bendixen said to the broadcaster.

Rwanda in 2019 built a centre for asylum seekers stranded in Libya, but that centre has received a limited number of asylum seekers so far, DR reports based on UN data.

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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.