New restrictions for refugees in the Finance Act 2019

Summary: What does it mean in practice for refugees in Denmark?

NOTE: This is an updated version of a text published in December 2018. At that time, the actual text of the proposal was not out yet. You can read the full proposal here (175 pages, in Danish).

The government and Danish People’s Party have agreed on the annual finance act for 2019, and as it has become customary, DPP got a load of new restrictions on foreigners in the bag. We have made a short summary, as many refugees contact us and ask nervously how this will affect them. Get the full agreement (Danish) here.

Also read our Q&A for questions that refugees are asking us these days!


The “Paradigm Shift”

DPP uses the word paradigm shift all the time. What they refer to is a complete change concerning refugees, moving focus from integration to return. DPP does not want refugees and immigrants to integrate at all, and now Venstre has accepted this stance. As it is, refugees have always been granted temporary residence permits in Denmark, which can after a certain amount of years become permanent if the person fulfils certain criteria. But in practice, the vast majority of refugees have stayed in Denmark, as residence permits have traditionally been extended without much ado.

This was, however, radically changed already in 2015 during the Helle Thorning government, when all permits were reduced from 5-7 years to 1-2 years, a special short-term status for certain Syrian refugees was introduced and a new article 19(1) was passed, making it possible to revoke a refugee status referring to even small improvements in their home country. This article led to 900 Somali refugees losing their Danish permits to stay this year – most of them after living 4-5 years in this country.

In Refugees Welcome we think this is an insane and counterproductive path to follow. UNHCR has stated that refugees are on average in need of protection for 17 years. Conflicts, wars and dictatorships are usually dragging on for a long time. Think of Afghanistan, where there has been war as long as anybody remembers, and it still gets worse. The civil war in Sri Lanka lasted 30 years. The situation in Iraq and Libya is still chaotic. Iran and Eritrea have oppressive and violent regimes – and very stable, unfortunately.

Refugees are more than anybody in need of a peaceful place to rebuild a new life, without living in constant fear of being forced to start all over again. If we make them feel welcome and safe in Denmark and invest in the first 5 years to educate and integrate them, the majority will become a great asset for our society, both on the human, cultural and economic scales. When doing the opposite, we fail our responsibility for a group of vulnerable people, only to create a badly adjusted subclass with massive social problems.

Refugees only make up for 3% of all foreigners who were given a residence permit in Denmark last year. The scary image that media and politicians are giving is totally out of proportions. And by the way, all figures show that integration and self-support among refugees has never been better – it’s actually working out well! But with this new policy, it will be hard to find an incitement to integrate. The negative and closed attitude towards refugees will also harm Denmark's reputation abroad and reduce our opportunities to educate and attract qualified workers.

The new restrictions and their consequences

Refugees will from now on be told very clearly that they should not expect to stay in Denmark but prepare themselves for return as soon as this is possible. The word "integration" will in fact not be used officially for refugees anymore. When the permit is about to be extended (every second year) or if the authorities consider revoking it before time, job and Danish skills will no longer count to the same degree as today. Only the security situation in the home country and family attachment will be assessed, and the government announces directly that it will be “to the limit of the conventions”. Children below 8 years will as a rule not be considered personally attached to Denmark yet. At the same time, it has become increasingly hard to obtain permanent residence permit during recent years. A refugee will still be allowed to apply, but there will be a big risk that she might lose her permit to stay before the 8 years of stay required to apply, or before being able to meet the hard criteria that must be fulfilled. Last year, only 193 persons with refugee background were granted permanent residence permit.

According to the new agreement, the wording in the permits to all refugees , including the ones with asylum under art. 7(1), 7(2) and 8 will be changed from “with the option of permanent stay” to “aimed at temporary stay”. This also goes for refugees who get future extensions after the former wording. Today the wording aimed at temporary stay is only used for refugees under art. 7(3) and humanitarian residence permit, and it means that they are not eligible to free education. This is will not change. Refugees under art. 7(1), 7(2) and 8 will still have free access to education, as other rights leading from this status will also be intact.

According to art. 19(1), which was introduced in 2015, it is possible to revoke a refugee's residence permit if the grounds for the permit have changed, and the risk of persecution has diminished. This is waht we have witnessed in the case of 900 Somalis who lost their asylum status recently. But until now, such cases have been assessed under art. 26, concerning a person's attachment to Denmark and the home country as well as the level of integration. This article will not longer be used for refugees, but a new article 19(a) will be introduced, saying that a residence permit must be revoked unless this is a breech of Denmark's international obligations. And this refers to the practice of ECHR concerning attachment – but the mentioned practice is based on expulsion of criminals, not refugees.

Refugees with asylum under art. 7(1) should, however, still be protected by The Refugee Convention's article 1C, demanding "fundamental, stable and lasting improvements" to send refugees back. But when considering that elsewhere in the proposal is mentioned an intention to go "to the limit of the conventions", this assessment might well be different than before.

Refugee children's own attachment will weigh less in the future than other foreign children's, and as a ground rule not be considered at all if they are under 8 years old. A direct discrimination, which is admitted in the proposal. By the way, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is not mentioned.

The only positive thing in the proposal is that refugees must no longer keep an eye on the date of expiry and apply for extension. Immigration Service will do this on their own initiative, as they already do for refugees under art. 7(3). An improvement mentally for the refugees and easier to administrate for Immigration Service.

According to present rules the municipality is only obliged to find temporary housing to refugees at first, but at some point they must advise a permanent place. This right is revoked, so that refugees can stay in temporary housing forever, often under unacceptable conditions (shared kitchen and bathroom, fungus, leaking windows, bad heating). The reason why the municipalities were allowed to use temporary housing more was a result of a great need for housing in 2016-17, but in 2018 the average number of refugees placed in each municipality was 8.

Parents (couples or single persons with children) will be lowered by 2,000 DKR per month per family. However, this will happen after 3 years of stay, when half of the extra benefit for children is earned (newcomers will gradually obtain this during their first 6 years). Many refugees are already today surviving below a minimum level of existence, where they can’t even pay food and medicine. Especially children are affected by this new restriction. At the same time, the name of the benefit changes from “integration benefit” to “Self-support and return benefit” for refugees, and “Transitional benefit”for immigrants. The Danish Institute for Human Rights (a state institution) recently published a report, documenting that the present level of the benefits are already a breach of the Danish constitution and the human rights. There is no research evidence that the lowering of benefits leads to a higher degree of self-support, but it has been proved clearly that is leads to many more poor children.

The municipalities can cover special expenses to refugees on integration benefit. This expense has been refunded immediately by 50% by the state until now, but will in the future be part of the annual budget. As a result, many municipalities will be more reluctant to pay the additional benefits, which will lead to even more severe poverty among refugees.

As a refugee or immigrant, it is always possible to give up your residence permit and return voluntarily to your home country. The Danish state will offer you a good amount of money paid out in a few rates. In some cases it is even possible to take your pension with you. This offer is mostly used by refugees and foreigners who have been living here for many years, and wish to spend their senior years in their home country. With the new proposal  the municipalities will be obliged to inform all refugees about this option at least once a year during meetings regarding the efforts to become self-supporting. The municipality will still get a cash bonus for every deal on repatriation. The deadline to regret the support willl be extened, and even persons with double citizenship, one of which is Danish, can now renounce the Danish one and repatriate. Even countries with armed conflicts, like Syria, will be accepted for repatriation. A clear signal that you should never feel welcome in Denmark, and many refugees will probably be quite confused when their case worker starts talking about returning, shortly after they were granted asylum.

The present demand for 3 years legal stay is raised to 4 years, without any arguing about why. At the same time, obtaining permanent residence permit and citizenship has become increasingly hard, and thereby the right to vote and run for parliament. Only one out of four with immigrant background in Denmark have Danish citizenship.

The loft is supposed to be activated by the minister in special situations when a large amount of refugees are arriving (as in 2015 and 2016). But refugees have a legal right to family reunification according to international and European conventions. Therefore, the new law has a complicated process of temporary assessemnt and then a waiting period of 3-4 months. In the end, it will not be more than a postponement, which was a natural consequence back then, due to the workload in Immigration service, causing waiting times for up to 2 years.

It was considered a sick joke, when MP Karen Jespersen 18 years ago came up with the idea to put rejected asylum seekers on a desert island. Now this is becoming reality, but for a different group, namely persons on Tolerated Stay, criminals with expulsion order and rejected asylum seekers who have broken a law close to their asylum center. The small island Lindholm in the bay of Stege has been used for research on swine fever and foot and mouth disease, and today you must be in quarantine after visiting the island. All buildings must be renovated, cleaned with formalin and left to “air out” for 6 months before they can be taken into use. This will be the new home from 2021 for people who have been sentenced an expulsion order from Denmark which for some reason can’t be carried out in near future. There will be a ferry connection to the island. The expenses will be enormous. Legal experts are afraid this might be in breach of the conventions regarding detention. The crime rate around Kærshovedgård, where this group is forced to live at the moment, is not higher than other places according to the police, but neighbours feel nervous. Denmark used the island Sprogø from 1923 to 1961 to isolate “morally defect” women from society.

Criminals with expulsion order and people on Tolerated Stay as well as ordinary, rejected asylum seekers are today obliged to report and to spend the night in deportation camp Kærshovedgård outside Ikast. In the future, the penalty for not following these rules will be increased radically. For instance, 2 days of absence will trigger a penalty of 40 days unconditional prison. And if you enter Denmark with a ban on entry, given with a sentence of at least 3 months unconditional prison, the minimum penalty will be 1 year, and up to 3 years, in prison. A steep rise in penalties, which will at the same time lead to use of custody imprisonment.