Mini-report on asylum reception in third countries

The Danish government's Rwanda-plans are the opposite of humane and just, such as they claim to be. Efficient and sustainable solutions are well-known, only waiting to be used!

The full report is in Danish only: "Et mere retfærdigt og humant asylsystem?" by Michala Clante Bendixen, published by the organisation Refugees Welcome, June 2022. 16 pages, illustrated. Download as PDF. Beneath is a short summary in English, as well as some background information on the Danish policy.

Summary of the Danish externalization plan

Since 2019, it has been an official part of the political program for Danish Social Democrats to externalize all asylum applications in Denmark to some other country, pereferably in North Africa. It turned out that no countries were interested in taking over Denmark's refugees, not even in return for substantional support and benefits. However, one country has kept a door open, but without agreeing to anything specific: Rwanda.

As head of government, Social Democrats passed a bill with a strong majority, legalizing the externalization plan but as there was still no actual contract or agreement, the bill did not contain any details concerning responsibility, jurisdiction or rights for the refugees who would ask for asylum in Denmark but end up in – presumably – Rwanda.

In short, the Danish plan is this:

• Asylum seekers arriving in Denmark will be transferred to Rwanda, where the asylum assessment will be made by Rwandese authorities. If granted asylum, the person stays in Rwanda. if rejected, Rwanda must return the person to her home country.

• There will be a screening procedure for persons who are not suitable for transfer (those could be unaccompanied children, vulnerable persons, sick persons, LGBT+ persons, and persons with close family ties in Denmark or Europe, but the definitions are not clear). Complaints over these decisions can be filed to Danish Immigration Board, to be handled in writing.

• Denmark will cover all costs for Rwanda, and probably donate extra amounts.

• The bill is passed and is now Danish law, but there is no agreement with Rwanda yet.

• United Kingdom has done things the other way around: made a deal with Rwanda first and then passed a bill to legalize it. So far, the actual transfers have been stopped by the European Court of Human Rights Rule 39 clause.

Critique of the Danish plan

The plan has been met with massive warnings and concerns from the first day. All NGOs working on refugee or human rights issues in Denmark such as Amnesty, Danish Refugee Council and Dignity have criticized it for being inhuman and unjust, and for adding to the problems instead of solving them. Questions and concerns from the round of hearing before the bill was passed were never answered by the government.

The UN Refugee Agency warned Denmark sharply that this could undermine the global solidairity in refugee protection. EU has determined that the plan is illegal under EU law, making it only possible because Denmark has opt-outs. The African Union has addressed Denmark directly, calling the plan a new form of colonialism. Not to mention that experience from similar attempts, Australia and Israel, should be enough to burry the idea for good.

The lack of logic

According to the Danish Social Democrats,the plan will be more humane and just for the following reasons:

1. Dangerous journeys and human smugglers can be avoided.

2. More refugees can be helped for the same amount of money if they stay in the "neighbouring areas".

None of these arguments hold up, as the mini-report proves.

1) In short, the plan will not reduce the dangerous journeys as it will not be possible to apply for asylum in the center in Rwanda, but only arriving in Denmark. It will in fact produce even more dangerous journeys, as the ones who arrive in Rwanda will most likely do as the ones who were brought there from Israel: embark on a new journey to Europe.

2) It does not make sense to compare the price of acute reception and survival aid in tent camps in Africa to the price of a future integration plan in a safe and wealthy country such as Denmark. Those two expenses are both neceessary, and they compliment each other when durable solutions are needed for refugees who are not able to return for a long time.

The so-called "neighbouring areas" are most often development countries, already housing 85% of the world's refugees, and they do not need to take a larger proportion from the rich countries. They need financial help as well as resettlement of people.

Refugees arriving in Denmark over the last decares have mainly come from Afghanistan, Iran, Syria and Iran. Moving them to Rwanda is by no means taking them back to their "neighbouring areas".

And lastly, about Rwanda as a choice of partner as well as a destination for refugees:

Rwanda is a very impressive and quite outstanding country in many ways. But it's a fact that it's run under a dictator with no truly free elections and no freedom of speech or free media. The president is very keen to create an impression of his country as stable, safe and highly efficient. But it comes at a price: things are done under strict surveillance, and criticism is not tolerated.

In spite of the amazing progress of the country, it remains one of the poorest countries in Africa, with a high level of unemployment and millions struggling every day to survive on a few dollars per day. It is also one of the smallest and most densely populated: less than half the size of Denmark but with a population almost three times bigger; 13 millions, and growing. The country is already generously hosting 130,000 refugees from its neighbour countries, and Denmark has in fact accepted to take a few hundreds of those for resettlement in Denmark – illustrating the absurdity of the new plan clearly.

Has the asylum system collapsed?

The Danish Social Democrats accuse the existing system in Europe of encouraging human smugglers and risking refugees' lives to access the territory, when it is in fact the European states who have done everything possible over the last 20 years to make hindrances for legal and safe access. With one hand respecting the right to apply for asylum, but with the other blocking the access to do so.

The same goes for most of the other unfair and inhumane elements of the existing system: they are the results of European states – with Denmark always on the front row – restricting free movement, limiting rights, accepting horrible conditions in makeshift camps and detention centers etc. in a race towards the bottom.

If there was a will from states such as Denmark to make a more fair and humane system, there are many ways to do so quite easily. But the result will be slightly more people coming to Europe, which is unacceptable to right-wing voters.

Alternatives to externalization

When criticizing the Socialdemocrats plan, the standard reply is always: but you are not coming up with any better ideas! So, we have done that twice now. The first time was in 2018, when Michala Clante Bendixen and Martin Lemberg-Pedersen wrote the solution catalogue "Alternatives to flight and deterrence". It was a collection of all the solutions that are generally recommended by international human rights and refugee organisations and by researchers. The mini-report is a shorter, updated version directed more on the broad public and directly referring to the Rwanda-plan.

There are no easy quick-fixes on a complex problem such as global flight and displacement. A number of many different tools are needed at the same time. But we have the solutions – the only problem is that the host states are working against them. And even the ones they claim to be in favour of, are not sincerely supported, such as the UN resettlement program.

Recommendations for real improvements

• Reform the Dublin regulation, make an internal distribution system in the EU, and allign asylum decisions

Denmark receives a tiny proportion of EU's refugees, no matter how you look at it. Only 489 new refugees were distributed to the local municipalities in 2020. The Dublin system and the internal differences in decisions and rights add to an uneven and unfair distribution of refugees within the EU.

• Accept more resettlement refugees from UN

UN recommended resettlement of 1.4 million refugees in 2020, but found only space for 2% (34,400). EU in total granted asylum to 212,000 refugees in 2020, and only 10% (21,700) were resettlement quotas. Since 2015, Denmark has accepted a total of 235 refugees via UN. For comparison, Sweden accepted 3,500 in 2020 and 5,400 in 2019. Norway accepted 1,500 in 2020 and 3,900 in 2019.

• Ease access to legal migration

European and Danish employers are in need of more workers: unskilled, skilled and highly specialized. But demands are too high to meet and the expenses too high to cover for many, so asking for asylum becomes the only way – which is undermining the asylum system.

• Alllow asylum applications to be handed it at European embassies

Denmark used to be one out of five countries where it was possible to apply for asylum at an embassy, without risking one's life on a horrible journey. Embassies and the Foreign Office were used during the evacuation from Kabul in August 2021, and when a refugee's family applies for reunification in Denmark it is always done via the embassies.

• Ease access to family reunification

Family reunification is a safe and cheap way to gain access to Europe, and those family members are quite often in need of protection themselves. By expanding the definition of a family to a household, more vulnerable people could also be included such as elderly and single women.

• Listen to experts on integration policies

Integration in Denmark has in fact become a success story, but many politicians and media refuse to accept it. Legislation is often based on feelings, prejudice and populist slogans, and is therefore opposing professional experience and research, endangering the good results to move backwards again. If integration is successful, refugees will be more welcome.