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Danish government to open office in Rwanda as asylum plan progresses

The Danish foreign ministry is to open an office in Rwandan capital Kigali. The government wants to open an offshore processing facility for refugees in the African country.

Danish government to open office in Rwanda as asylum plan progresses
Danish immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Two diplomats are to be sent from Denmark to work in a new office in Kigali, Rwanda by the end of the year, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement.

The objective of the office will be to strengthen relations between the two countries, the ministry said.

“Denmark and Rwanda share a wish to help more refugees better than today and to fight irregular and life-threatening migration, including across the Mediterranean,” immigration minister Kaare Dybvad Bek said in the statement.

“Our shared goal is to reform the current, flawed asylum system and ensure a dignified and sustainable future for refugees and migrants. I am therefore pleased that we will soon be able to open an office in Rwanda,” he said.

In additional comments to news wire Ritzau, the minister said the new office “means we are going a step further in relation to strengthening our partnership with Rwanda with regard to opening a refugee centre.”

“I’m not saying this solves everything. But it is a step on the way to fulfilling the ambition which ensures we open a refugee centre. In relation to the agreement we have, this gives us new possibilities because we have a permanent location in the country,” he said.

Moving part of Denmark’s refugee system offshore to a non-EU country – confirmed in 2021 as Rwanda – is a long-term objective of Denmark’s Social Democratic government.

The plans entail Denmark sending asylum seekers to Rwanda, where their cases would be processed by Danish authorities, instead of allowing them to live in Denmark.

Negotiations between the two countries over the specifics of such an arrangement are ongoing.

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A spokesperson from the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR said in April that the agency “does not view the idea of outsourcing asylum, whether to Rwanda or another country, as a responsible or sustainable solution.”

Human rights organisations Amnesty International has previously criticised the Danish plan, saying it takes “responsibility-shifting of refugee protection by EU governments to a new low, and would set a dangerous precedent in Europe and globally”.

The minority government’s usual parliamentary allies, the centre-left Social Liberal party and left-wing Red Green Alliance, have both stated that they oppose the plan to process asylum seekers in Rwanda, news wire Ritzau reported.

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IMMIGRATION

Denmark and Rwanda move forward on asylum seeker transfer plan

Denmark and Rwanda on Friday said they would move forward on a plan which would see asylum seekers in Denmark transferred to an offshore facility in Rwanda while their claims are processed.

Denmark and Rwanda move forward on asylum seeker transfer plan

The two countries signed a joint statement on bilateral cooperation which declared they were “exploring the establishment of a program through which spontaneous asylum seekers arriving in Denmark may be transferred to Rwanda for consideration of their asylum applications.”

It would also include “the option of settling in Rwanda,” the statement said.

The declaration was published on the website of Denmark’s Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

It goes a step further than an earlier partnership agreement, announced by the two countries in 2021, because Rwanda now expressly states that it wants to accept asylum seekers from Denmark.

Earlier declarations referred more vaguely to Denmark’s goal of establishing an offshore or “third-country” asylum centre.

Danish ministers Kaare Dybvad Bek (Immigration) and Flemming Møller Mortensen (foreign development) are currently in Rwanda, where they held a doorstep press briefing on Friday with Rwandan officials to present the new agreement.

Securing an offshore asylum centre has been a long-term, stated ambition of the governing Social Democratic party. The Danish Foreign Ministry recently announced it had opened a local office in Kigali, where two diplomats from the ministry will be based from late this year.

In June 2021, Denmark, known for having one of Europe’s harshest stances on immigration, adopted a law enabling it to open asylum reception centres outside Europe where applicants would live while their case is being processed.

Asylum seekers would still need to submit applications in person at the Danish border and then be flown to the reception centre in another country.

The declaration states that the two lands are working together to enable asylum seekers to remain in Rwanda after their cases are processed.

The two countries say they will speak to the EU Commission and other international bodies to “facilitate international dialogue” about what Denmark and Rwanda view as solutions to the current “dysfunctional” asylum system.

“We are working hard to create a fairer asylum system and we have continuously taken news steps,” Bek said in a press statement.

“At the same time it is important that we don’t rush anything through but instead do our work thoroughly and reach an agreement that complies with Denmark’s and Rwanda’s international obligations,” he said.

When the 2021 Danish law was passed, the European Commission said the Danish plan violated existing EU asylum rules.

Denmark has an opt-out on EU law which keeps it outside of the EU cooperation on laws relating to border control and asylum (but not visa rules and the Schengen area).

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However, the Nordic country could find itself in violation of the Dublin Regulation should it press on with the plan.

The regulation sets criteria for how EU member states must process asylum claims.

Earlier this month, the EU Commission told Danish political media Altinget that a legal assessment of whether the Dublin Regulation had been infringed would be initiated if Denmark went ahead with the plan.

The minority government is also likely to face blowback over the plan from left wing parties which usually secure its parliamentary majority.

The immigration spokesperson with the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre), Kathrine Olldag, told newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Friday that her party “can not put mandates behind a government – regardless of party colour – that fulfils this project” by moving asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Conservative parties have meanwhile called the two ministers’ visit to Rwanda a campaign stunt, with a general election rumoured to be announced this autumn.

The UK government has also announced a controversial policy to deport rejected asylum seekers to Rwanda, but it has stalled amid legal challenges.

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