New bill wants Danish Refugee Council out of the Refugee Appeals Board

The government’s wish to cut down the Refugee Appeals Board from 5 to 3 members worries experts

In a new bill put forward, the Danish government expresses a specific wish to exclude the Danish Refugee Council from pointing out board members to the Refugee Appeals Board. The board was expanded i 2012 to enhance the expertise, and the members pointed out by the council represents some of the most respected experts in the country within this field. To maintain an uneven number of members, the person appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark will also have to go.

Rejections on asylum from Danish Immigration Service are automatically appealed to the Refugee Appeals Board, which forms the second instance. In practice there are several boards with the same composition. Each board has today a judge as a chairman and 4 members appointed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Danish Ministry of Immigration, Integration & Housing, the Danish Bar & Law Society and the Danish Refugee Council. The board also had 5 members before Anders Fogh-Rasmussen as a new Prime Minister in 2002 reduced it to 3 members. The SRSF government pulled Fogh’s amendment back in 2012, and going back to 5 members was done in order to heighten the board’s overall experience and knowledge in the field, which is crucial in making correct decisions.

Minister of Immigration, Integration & Housing Inger Støjberg (The Liberal Party) has sent the bill to hearing and argues that the Danish Refugee Council as a private and humanitarian organisation holds a ”dual role” causing ”imbalance” in the board. The Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council Andreas Kamm points out to the Danish news paper Information that reflections on the neutrality of the board members in principle should involve members pointed out by both authorities and organisations. The combination of the board will become more unbalanced without members pointed out by organisations, as the decisions will be even more in the hands of the same authorities which rejected the case in the first instance. Andreas Kamm finds it disturbing, that the ministry which Immigration Service belongs to, is part of the appeals board on the decisions from Immigration Service. Even today, the decisions of the second instance are not 100% independent from first instance, as it should be.

Andreas Kamm adds that The Danish Refugee Council only appoints a member, and after that has no influence on the decisions or attitudes of this member.

On the contrary, member of the Danish Parliament Martin Henriksen (The Danish People’s Party) applauds the bill for going in the right direction. ”You should go all the way and eliminate the board and let the Danish Immigration Service make all the decisions”, he says to Information. Legal consultant at Amnesty International Claus Juul is concerned about leaving the entire procedure to the authorities. He is also a member of the board pointed out by the Danish Refugee Council og he also underlines that members can be just as influenced by their Minister as by their organisation. Claus Juul calls for an evaluation of the effect of the number of members and what the wider range of competence means to the precision of the decisions.

In Denmark, a basic principle is the division of the power, making sure that the courts are independent from the political decisions. The Refugee Appeals Board is not a court, but the decisions from the board are final and can’t be appealed to the courts. According to international refugee law it is crucial to have access to at least two instances of decisions, independent form each other. The Danish system is quite unique, most other European countries use the courts for asylum cases.

In 2015, the Refugee Appeals Board handled 1,481 cases, and 21% of the decisions were reversed. The Appeals Board is a higher instance, juridically speaking, and therefore it is the board which makes the ruling in cases of doubt – and Immigration Service must follow the line of the board.