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
Danish Immigration Minister Kaare Dybvad Bek and Minister for Foreign Development Flemming Møller Mortensen with Rwandan Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta after signing a new deal to move forward on a plan to transfer asylum seekers between the two countries. Photo: Bo Amstrup/Ritzau Scanpix

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).


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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Danish family reunification rules panned in report as Danes fail language test

Denmark's family reunification rules have received strong criticism in a new ministerial report, in part because native Danish partners are forced to take language tests which they regularly fail.

Danish family reunification rules panned in report as Danes fail language test

A report from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration, obtained by newspaper Ekstra Bladet, shows a poor pass rate amongst native Danes who must meet language requirements for their foreign partners to be granted residence in Denmark.

Family reunification rules include ‘integration requirements’ for sponsors, which apply even to Danes born and raised in Denmark. 

These include a mastery of the Danish language equivalent to a 9th grade level in Folkeskole — the last year of mandatory education in Denmark, when children are about 16 years old. The test which must be taken is known as Dansk 3.

Rules for family reunification were last updated in 2018, when requirements became stricter. Former immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye earlier stated that the language requirement for partners was in place because too many Danish citizens of non-Danish heritage were not good enough at Danish. It should be noted that a similar Danish language test must be passed in order to be granted Danish citizenship via naturalisation.

READ ALSO: Denmark to cut wait for family reunion after losing European court case

The report found that 19 percent of ethnic Danes who apply for spousal reunification fail to meet that standard, resulting in a rejection of family reunification claims, Ekstra Bladet writes. For Danish citizens of other ethnic backgrounds, 27 percent can’t pass. 

The ministry’s report was authored by a number of organisations and authorities and includes criticism of the requirement for Danish nationals of Danish heritage to demonstrate Danish language proficiency.

“It is a quite unfair demand to place on a Dane who his lived all their life in Denmark and attended elementary school but not taken further education as such, but has otherwise managed very well,” one organisation, the Foreningen af Udlændingeretsadvokater (Society of Immigration Rights Lawyers), says in the report according to Ekstra Bladet.

The criteria for family reunification of non-EU citizen spouses in Denmark is set out on the websites of the authorities responsible for applications, the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) and the Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen).

Broadly, a range of criteria can apply to the foreign partner and to the Danish sponsor. In practice, the criteria can prove extremely difficult to live up to and easy to fall foul of.

An affected Danish national who spoke to The Local in 2021 described, for example, how a requirement for a bank deposit termed the ‘bank guarantee’ posed a hefty financial burden; that partners are not permitted to work while their cases are being processed, worsening their ability to prove self-sufficiency; and that a loss of employment for either couple could result in family reunification being withdrawn.

The report, which was initiated by Tesfaye earlier this year, also criticises several other aspects of the rules, Ekstra Bladet writes.

These include demands on the employment and education circumstances of the applicant Danish spouses and a housing rule which can block family reunification based on the address of the Danish partner.

The bank guarantee requirement is criticised for being unfit for purpose and an administrative burden for local authorities, echoing arguments already made against the rule in the past.

Further, a high demand on documentation is also criticised because many source countries do not have a similar level of registration and documentation to Denmark. This can make it difficult for genuine couples to supply all the required documentation asked for as proof of their relationship.

Parliament’s committee on immigration rules, the Udlændinge- og Integrationsudvalg, is scheduled to review the ministry report next week, Ekstra Bladet reports.

Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek said in earlier comments to the newspaper that an adjustment of the rules was “not out of the question”.

“I am therefore also looking forward to reading the report and calling a meeting for discussion of this with parliament’s other parties,” he said in a written comment.

READ MORE: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart