EXPLAINED: Why Danish ex-minister faces rare impeachment trial

Former Danish immigration minister Inger Støjberg goes on trial on Thursday in a rarely used impeachment court, accused of illegally separating couples who arrived in the country to claim asylum.

EXPLAINED: Why Danish ex-minister faces rare impeachment trial
Inger Støjberg arrives for her impeachment trial in Copenhagen on Thursday. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

The 26 judges of the special court, which only convenes to try former or current members of government, will determine whether Støjberg violated the European Convention on Human Rights.

Law professor Frederik Waage pointed out that it was only the third such case in more than a century, calling it “historic”.

Støjberg ordered the separation of 23 couples in 2016 where the woman was under 18 — though the age differences were mostly small — without examining the cases individually.

She is also accused of “lying to or misleading” parliamentary committees when informing them of her decision.

The 48-year-old ex-minister denies any wrongdoing.

Støjberg repeatedly made headlines in the international media for her handling of immigration issues during her 2015-2019 tenure as minister in the previous Liberal-led government.

She has since quit her party but remains a lawmaker.


Addressing parliament in February when lawmakers voted to try her, Støjberg said she did “the only political and humane thing” to combat forced child marriages.

“Imagine arriving in a country like Denmark, a country of equality, as a young girl victim of a forced marriage, and you discover that instead of giving you the possibility to break free of your forced marriage, the state forces you to stay together in an asylum reception centre,” she said.

Of Denmark’s 179 members of parliament, 139 voted in favour of the impeachment trial. Thirty were opposed and 10 were absent.

As minister in a centre-right government backed by the populist anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, Støjberg was responsible for Denmark’s ultra-restrictive immigration policy. 

She boasted of having passed more than 110 amendments curbing immigrants’ rights, sparking controversy in 2017 when she posted a picture of herself on social media celebrating her 50th amendment cracking down on immigration. 

During her mandate, she also passed a law allowing Denmark to confiscate migrants’ valuables to finance their stay in Denmark.

This is only the third time since 1910 that a member of government has been tried by the Court of Impeachment.

The last case dates back to 1993, when former justice minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was found guilty of illegally suspending family reunifications for Sri Lankan refugees in 1987 and 1988. He was handed a suspended four-month prison sentence. 

If impeached, Støjberg will likely be ordered to pay a fine, said Waage of the University of Southern Denmark.

“In the case of Erik Ninn-Hansen, people probably died as a result of his decisions. In the case of Inger Støjberg, it’s not as serious,” he said.

He said he believed Støjberg’s actions may have violated the European convention, which stipulates that families must not be separated.
The Social Democratic government that took over in 2019 has not rolled back immigration restrictions — rather it has introduced some even tougher initiatives.

But Waage noted that the current government was keen to show that it does not violate the law.

The Court of Impeachment has scheduled 46 days of hearings.

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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.