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Refugees: Danish migration policy relies on negative headlines

Refugees: Danish migration policy relies on negative headlines

Denmark always causes a stir with its harsh approach towards asylum seekers. Many in Germany consider this to be worth imitating. But the devil is in the details.

Anyone who wants to apply for asylum in Denmark should be able to walk well. The only reception center for refugees is located about 25 kilometers outside Copenhagen on a military training area in Sandholm. The bus from the former barracks to the nearest S-Bahn station runs every 30 to 45 minutes during the day. You can also walk around four kilometers in that time. It is only half as far to the Sjælsmark deportation center, which is run by the prison system. And the Ellebæk deportation center, criticized by the Council of Europe Anti-Torture Committee, is just a few steps away from the reception center.

For Michala Clante Bendixen from Refugees Welcome Denmark, the location of the three locations is a symbol of Danish refugee policy. Unlike in Germany, there is a widespread political consensus here to allow as few asylum seekers as possible into the country. In 2019, parliament, with a majority of right-wing populists, bourgeois parties and social democrats, decided on a so-called paradigm shift, according to which residence permits for refugees are generally limited in time and, if possible, should not be extended or revoked. Benefits for asylum seekers were cut, residence and registration requirements were tightened, and repatriation to the country of origin was made easier.

In addition, the government in the Middle East placed advertisements warning refugees about Denmark and pushed through a jewelry law that would allow police to take valuables from asylum seekers in order to finance their stay in Denmark. Among other things, a ghetto law doubles the sentence for people who live in certain residential areas. This should help against parallel societies.

The jewelry law “is purely symbolic politics”

Denmark’s refugee policy consists of scaring people, Bendixen tells the dpa news agency. The jewelry law, for example, does not work in practice and is rarely applied. “This is pure symbolic politics.” The government was probably more concerned with external impact.

The driving force behind this approach was not only the right-wing populist Danish People’s Party, which fell in the elections after the paradigm shift, but also the then Foreign Minister and Integration Minister Inger Støjberg from the right-wing liberal party Venstre. In 2017, she celebrated the 50th tightening of the immigration rules with an anniversary cake and the words: “This has to be celebrated.”

Supporters of a tougher asylum policy in Germany like to praise the figures from Denmark as exemplary. According to the Copenhagen Ministry for Foreigners and Integration, 4,597 people applied for asylum in Denmark last year, and there were more than 244,000 applications in Germany. To make the numbers comparable: Germany has around 14 times as many inhabitants as Denmark, but 53 times more asylum seekers.

Division into three groups

Anyone who registers as an asylum seeker in Denmark usually ends up in Sandholm and is interviewed. The immigration authority then sorts out people who are registered in countries that are part of the Dublin Convention, which regulates European asylum procedures. Denmark does not feel responsible for these refugees. The rest are divided into three groups: applicants who can obviously be rejected, applicants who need to be examined more closely, and people with plausible reasons for asylum.

Recognized refugees are assigned a place to live, usually for an initial period of three years, often in an asylum center that is as remote as Sandholm. The centers have a kindergarten. Minors of school age receive school lessons, first in the asylum center and, as soon as they are fit, in normal schools in the area. There are Danish lessons for adults. Even in Sandholm, many greet people in the local language. The residents receive pocket money, which they can top up if they take on certain jobs.

Rejected asylum seekers are sent to one of three deportation centers. People whose residence permit has not been renewed or whose homeland has been declared safe by the Danish authorities also end up there, even if they have lived in Denmark for years, speak Danish, have a job and support their family. The case of Russian Larissa Okulova has just made headlines, whose residence permit of 19 years was revoked after her husband, who was employed in Denmark, died.

The Danish authorities are offering rejected asylum seekers 20,000 crowns if they decide not to lodge an appeal. But very few people take that into account. Anyone who doesn’t give in will have to expect another “motivational measure” – being sent to Ellebæk, where the head of the Council of Europe’s Anti-Torture Committee has said that even prisons in Russia are better.

Directives that deviate from the EU treaties

Støjberg responded to such criticism by saying that she wanted to make life as unbearable as possible for inmates of deportation centers who are unwanted in Denmark. She left the Venstre in the dispute over excesses in her foreign policy and founded the right-wing populist Denmark Democrats, which are now almost three times as strong in polls as the Danish People’s Party.

From a purely legal perspective, however, Denmark is not suitable as a role model for other EU states. At the beginning of the 1990s, the government at the time negotiated special rules under which Denmark could issue guidelines for border controls, asylum, immigration and visas that deviate from the EU treaties. Other EU states cannot do this.

However, the country is far from being able to deport everyone who is required to leave the country. The government in Syria, for example, is not cooperating, says Bendixen. There are also practically no deportations to Sudan, Iran, Gaza and Myanmar. So people stayed in Ellebæk and other centers, claimed other reasons for asylum or, under certain circumstances, were even classified as tolerated after 18 months.

Many people forced to leave the country go into hiding

But many people prefer not to let that happen. According to Refugees Welcome, most of those forced to leave the country disappear before they land in Ellebæk. In 2022 there were 548 people in Denmark who were required to leave the country. Of these, 222 were deported. Most of the 300 or so others disappeared from the system at some point, went into hiding or tried to do so in Germany, for example.

Bendixen calls Ellebæk part of Denmark’s deterrence policy against refugees. But it only works as long as other countries don’t adopt the recipe. If neighboring countries take similar action, European refugee policy will be like the game “Journey to Jerusalem”. “There are fewer and fewer chairs, but that doesn’t mean the number of refugees is decreasing. They are in Europe and are crowding into the fewer and fewer free spaces.”

Source: Stern

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