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IMMIGRATION

Danish MPs agree to send asylum seekers outside Europe

Denmark's parliament on Thursday adopted a law enabling it to open asylum reception centres outside Europe where applicants would live while their case is processed, with the host country also taking them in if granted asylum.

Danish MPs agree to send asylum seekers outside Europe
An Eritrean refugee child stands under an umbrella at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, on January 30, 2021. Danish media have mentioned Ethiopia as a possible site for the camp. Photo: Eduardo Soteras / AFP

Known for having one of Europe’s harshest stances on immigration, the wealthy Scandinavian country aims to deter migrants from coming to Denmark at all.

Despite criticism from humanitarian organisations and some leftwing parties, the bill, proposed by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s Social Democrats, was adopted by 70 votes to 24.

Under the law, asylum seekers would have to submit an application in person at the Danish border and then be flown to an asylum centre outside Europe while their application is being processed by the host country.

If the application is approved and the person is granted refugee status, he or she would be given the right to live in the host country, but not in Denmark.

If it is rejected, the migrant would have to leave the host country. No country has agreed to collaborate with Denmark yet, but the government says it is in talks with five to 10 countries, without identifying them.

Danish media have mentioned Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia as possibilities. Denmark is meanwhile known to be in talks with Rwanda.

The two have signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration cooperation, though the document doesn’t specifically cover external asylum processing.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, criticised the law as “contrary to the principles of international refugee cooperation.”

“By initiating such a drastic and restrictive change in Danish refugee legislation, Denmark risks starting a domino effect, where other countries in Europe and in neighbouring regions will also explore the possibility of limiting the protection of refugees on their soil,” UNHCR’s representative in the Nordic and Baltic countries, Henrik Nordentoft, told news agency Ritzau.

Denmark has repeatedly made headlines in recent years with its anti-immigration policies, including its official “zero refugees” target, its withdrawal of residence permits from Syrians now that it deems parts of the war-torn country safe, and its crackdown on Danish “ghettos” in a bid to reduce the number of “non-Western” residents.

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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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