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.