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IMMIGRATION

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

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.

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

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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POLITICS

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.

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