Danish government tables bill for offshore asylum centres as ministers return from Rwanda

Danish government tables bill for offshore asylum centres as ministers return from Rwanda
Sjælsmark, a Danish 'departure centre' for rejected asylum seekers, photographed in August 2020. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix
A bill tabled by the Danish government and visit to Rwanda by Danish ministers has fuelled speculation Copenhagen plans to open an offshore asylum centre in the African country.

Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye and international development minister Flemming Møller Mortensen this week travelled to Rwanda where they signed an agreement with the Rwandan government. 

The trip was surrounded by an element of secrecy, with the ministers initially refusing to speak to Danish media and only the Rwandan foreign ministry officially publicising it.

READ ALSO: Danish ministers visit Rwanda but stay quiet on agreement

The two ministers landed back in Copenhagen on Thursday afternoon, the same day the government tabled a new bill sub-titled “Introduction of the option to transfer asylum seekers for processing and possible subsequent protection in third countries”.

Commenting on the Rwandan trip for the first time, Tesfaye declined to confirm the talks included discussion of an asylum centre. The government wants “discussions to take place in confidentiality”, he told broadcaster DR. He also rejected a connection to the bill, tabled by his ministry on Thursday, DR writes.

“It’s correct that it’s the government’s wish to establish a new asylum system where processing of asylum claims is moved out of Denmark. We are in dialogue with a number of countries about that,” the minister also said.

The agreement signed in Rwanda is “a framework on future partnerships” related to “environment and climate”, he said, adding “on the Danish side, we wish to manage migration in a better and fairer way. We have agreed to pursue this.”

Denmark’s Social Democratic government has a long-standing desire to establish a reception centre for refugees in a third country.

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.

The Danish foreign ministry earlier confirmed that the two countries have agreed to work more closely on asylum and migration.

“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 Danish Refugee Council criticised the bill, tweeting that “transfer of asylum seekers to a third country, as (proposed) in (parliament) today is irresponsible, lacks solidarity and should be condemned”.

“Over 80 million people have been driven from their homes while Denmark has a historically low number of asylum seekers. In that light it’s shameful that the government is trying to buy its way out of the responsibility for protecting refugees… it sets a dangerous example,” the NGO added.

The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, has also responded to the law proposed by the government on Thursday.

The implementation of such a law would “rely on an agreement with a third country”, the UNHCR noted.

The agency wrote that it “strongly urges Denmark to refrain from establishing laws and practices that would externalize its asylum obligations” under UN conventions.

READ ALSO: Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020


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