Inhumane and unrealistic: The government should drop the idea of ​​Danish asylum centers outside Europe

9 NGOs warn that the plan for reception in a third country is based on a misconception and will damage global collaboration

The Danish government has sent a new bill for consultation. This is supposed to clear the way for a later completion of the plan the Social Democrats have been working on for the last three years: to move asylum processing out of Denmark, for ecxample to Africa, and put an end to the reception of asylum seekers.

However, no countries have so far begun negotiations about hosting such a center, and the proposal holds no details about the contract, accommodation, asylum procedure, jurisdiction, responsibility in different situations or exceptions for groups of people who will not be transferred.

The main issues of the bill are:

• Denmark will make an agreement with a country outside Europe (the third country) to receive, accommodate and process the cases of people who seek asylum in Denmark. It is not clear whether the processing should follow Danish law or the law in the third country.

• The legal powers to detain applicants in Denmark will be expanded on request from the police, Immigration Service and the new Return Agency. Most applicants will probably oppose their own transfer and will therefore have to be detained and transferred by force.

•  Whether or not the asylum seeker is granted asylum, it is the third country that will beresponsible for the person, and not Denmark. The proposal does not mention any article from the different conventions on rights, besides 'refoulement' (risk of return to persecution or danger).

• It will not be possible to seek asylum directly in the center, but only in Denmark (which contradicts the government's claim that it will save people from dangerous journeys and the use of smuggling networks).

• There will be exceptions (not yet specified) for groups who cannot be transferred, and an appeal procedure with an appointed lawyer and a written assessment by the Refugee Appeals Board concerning transfers.

The proposed bill has met massive resistance from UNHCR, law experts, researchers and NGOs. Read the post by 9 Danish NGOs below.

Also read the hearing statement from Refugees Welcome (in Danish).

The idea of establishing asylum centers outside Europe is far from new, Martin Lemberg-Pedersen, PhD, wrote in the article "European asylum-colonialism?" from 2015.

Photo: Copyright Daniel Rosenthal. Bulgaria 2013.

By: Charlotte Slente, general secretary, DRC Danish Refugee Council; Trine Christensen, general secretary, Amnesty International Denmark; Tim Whyte, general secretary, Mellemfolkeligt Samvirke (Action Aid Denmark); Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, general secretary, Save the Children Denmark; Yanaba Mompremier Rymark Sankoh, general secretary, LGBT ASYLUM; Malin Palmer, director, Doctors Without Borders; Rasmus Grue Christensen, director, DIGNITY; Michala Clante Bendixen, Chairman, Refugees Welcome; Jytte Lindgård, Chairman, Danish Association of Immigration Lawyers (Translated to English by: Alice Fitzsimons-Quail)

The government has sent a bill for consultation which attempts to pave the way for so-called reception centers in third countries, where the cases of asylum seekers who come to Denmark will be processed. The Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration recently published a legal memorandum highlighting that this is a difficult project and there are still many obstacles and hypothetical scenarios to consider if such a project were to become a reality.

According to the government, the proposal is necessary and humane because it will prevent desperate people from travelling in dinghies and risking drowning in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe - and be bad for human traffickers' business. In addition, centers far away from Denmark would prevent people who have been refused asylum from staying in the country because they cannot, or will not, return home.

Of course, we agree with the government that people should not drown in their attempts to gain protection. We also agree that human traffickers should not make money from the misfortunes of desperate people, and that people who do not need protection in Denmark should, as a rule, travel back to their home countries.

However, the Danish government's proposal is not a real solution to the challenges it presents – and here we outline why the proposal is not humane:

Firstly, the proposal will mean that asylum seekers must still go to Denmark to seek asylum. The government has explicitly emphasized this. But if they arrive in Denmark, most (according to the Government's own note there will be some exceptions) will be sent to the third country where the Danish reception center is located. As they have no other option, the asylum seekers in this model must still take the dangerous trip across the Mediterranean to reach Denmark in the first place and would then perhaps be placed – even forcefully – on board a plane.

Secondly, the creation of reception centers risks undermining the right to seek asylum and the protection of refugees from persecution and abuse, with major humanitarian consequences to follow. In the long run, it undermines the global system for refugee protection, which requires the international community to take responsibility. If rich and well-functioning countries such as Denmark do not contribute to the protection and housing of refugees, there is a risk that the often far poorer countries - which house the vast majority of the world's refugees – will not take on the task either.

Thirdly, international experience from, for example, Australia, or the so-called 'hotspots' on the Greek islands, shows that the isolation of asylum seekers and refugees can create conditions where rights violations take place. Experience has shown that in these situations there is less access to legal advice, courts, medical care, rehabilitation for traumatized refugees, and that accommodation conditions are often inadequate. Even if Denmark succeeds in establishing a reception center where basic human rights would be respected, asylum case processing would take place very far away from the Danish public, and the regulatory control and monitoring functions in Denmark.

The government also tends to say that many people who come here do not need protection at all. But in 2019, the two groups that arrived in Greece in the greatest numbers were from Syria and Afghanistan, which we usually refer to as "refugee-producing" countries, and from which many asylum seekers are successfully granted asylum. Moreover, the only way to find out if people need protection is to process their case. The government has repeatedly emphasized that people in need of protection will still receive protection – and we can only agree with this. More than half of asylum seekers who had their case processed in Europe in 2019 had their need for protection recognized and were granted asylum.

In our view, if the global community wants to find real solutions for adults and children fleeing their countries, it presupposes a willingness to contribute to a fair distribution of responsibilities. In fact, the global refugee situation is manageable if all countries take on the responsibility to protect and assist displaced people in proportion with their own resources.

No countries have yet signed up to house a reception center, but even if they succeed in making an agreement and constructing a Danish asylum center in a third country, it will be far from a humane idea.

This post was originally published in Altinget on February 22.

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