Special law for Ukrainians is discriminating and short-sighted

Ukrainians need help urgently, but improvements concerning reception and protection must include all refugees

Refugees Welcome is happy to see the quite new and surprising eagerness among Danish politicians to help refugees from Ukraine, though some statements have been openly racist. However, we are not so surprised to see the goodwill from the people or civil society, which we also saw in 2015 and which we meet every day in Danish society.

But we must warn sharply against treating refugees differently according to their home country and its distance to Denmark, and we are generally opposing to special laws aiming at certain groups, whether this aim be positive or negative. The present crisis situation clearly shows the need for more homogenous rules within the EU, as well as an efficient and a fair distribution system. This will prepare us for future refugee waves.

Ukrainians seen in asylum law perspective

Ukrainians have a far better position than other refugees upon arrival, as most arrive legally with a valid passport and are not requested a visa. They arrive legally speaking as "tourists" and not as asylum seekers and can have their legal stay extended up to 6 months, but without the right to work or social benefits.

When it comes to asylum law, Ukrainians are so far not in greater danger than any other refugees, in fact quite the opposite. They would probably not be granted asylum if the present asylum procedure was followed, and this could be one of the reasons why the government os so eager to pass a special law. If they were to be granted asylum, so should all Libyans and Iraqis, when we were bombing their countries. During the Iraqi war, only a few percent were granted asylum in Denmark, and hundreds ended up as rejected in the Danish asylum camps for 10 years.

If Ukrainian refugees were granted asylum today, they would fall under art. 7.3 of the Danish Alien Act. This article covers war refugees who do not have individual asylum motives and do not belong to a persecuted group – but it requires a home country totally in chaos and without any safe areas. That assessment should stay with legal experts and not with politicians, but the bar can be lowered through legislation. The article contains a number of limitations compared to other asylum statuses, which have turned out to be very problematic: a quarantine period for family reunification (now lowered to 2 from 3 years after a ruling from Strasbourg) and an option of revoking the residence permit even though security in the home country is still unstable and unpredictable.

The EU directive and the special law

Special laws should always be avoided – everyone must be equal in front of the law. Special laws are often sloppy and have unintended effects. The latest example was the one for the evacuees from Afghanistan, passed with the purpose of speedy decisions and a guarantee to stay. Both failed eventually: they were made to wait in the asylum centres for 6-8 months, not everyone was covered by the law, the criteria for family reunion are unclear, and they will all have to apply for asylum on top – in other words, the special law meant double bureaucracy and did not solve the problems.

EU has decided to activate The Temporary Protection Directive. It states back from 2001 and should have been activated for Syrians, Eritreans and Afghans in 2015, but never was. It will give all Ukrainians the right to work and stay in EU for one year, which can be extended up to 3 years. It will only include Ukrainian citizens and refugees already granted asylum in Ukraine, whereas students and workers with other nationalities are not included. People with a long or permanent stay in Ukraine must be assessed by each member state. Of course, it's possible to apply for asylum even after being granted a stay under the directive, but then the Dublin regulation will be applied.

The Danish special law is almost a copy of the EU directive – but a few details differ, among them is that residence permit will be for 2 years which can be extended. Following parties are behind the political agreement: Socialdemokraterne, Venstre, SF, Radikale, Liberal Alliance, Enhedslisten and Kristendemokraterne.

A sustainable improvement which does not discriminate

The asylum rules in Denmark have been far stricter than in our neighbour countries for 20 years. It's very positive that refugees are not being welcomed, and that pragmatic solutions to avoid long waiting periods in asylum centres are being discussed. But when these improvements are only made for Ukrainians, it's hard to see them as anything else but pure ethnic discrimination. In Sweden for instance, there is no discussion about special laws or 'neighbouring areas', only a search for more accommodation.

Instead of a special law which cannot be used in the future, favouring one nationality and therefore discriminating against all other refugees, humanitarian considerations should be extended and limitations to art. 7.3 should be abolished, aligning it to art. 7.1 and 7.2 regarding family reunification and revoking. At the same time, asylum seekers should be allowed to stay in private homes as in Sweden, and allowed to work under regulated terms from arrival instead of after 6 months in the asylum system, as the present rule says. An asylum case can be decided within few months under the "manifestly permission" speedy procedure.

These changes will not be discriminating, and at the same time they will solve the problem for the small group of Syrians from Damascus and Rif Damascus with a permit under art. 7.3 who are now losing their permits, putting Denmark on collision course with the UN and the EU, making headlines across the world. A large majority of Danish voters, especially those supporting the present government, are not supporting the withdrawals of Syrian permits as long as this is not recommended by the UN and the EU. The Syrian cases have also shown that returning refugees after a few years is not realistic, proving a need for long-term and durable solutions.

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