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IMMIGRATION

Danish government tables bill for offshore asylum centres as ministers return from Rwanda

A bill tabled by the Danish government and visit to Rwanda by Danish ministers has fuelled speculation Copenhagen plans to open an offshore asylum centre in the African country.

Danish government tables bill for offshore asylum centres as ministers return from Rwanda
Sjælsmark, a Danish 'departure centre' for rejected asylum seekers, photographed in August 2020. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye and international development minister Flemming Møller Mortensen this week travelled to Rwanda where they signed an agreement with the Rwandan government. 

The trip was surrounded by an element of secrecy, with the ministers initially refusing to speak to Danish media and only the Rwandan foreign ministry officially publicising it.

READ ALSO: Danish ministers visit Rwanda but stay quiet on agreement

The two ministers landed back in Copenhagen on Thursday afternoon, the same day the government tabled a new bill sub-titled “Introduction of the option to transfer asylum seekers for processing and possible subsequent protection in third countries”.

Commenting on the Rwandan trip for the first time, Tesfaye declined to confirm the talks included discussion of an asylum centre. The government wants “discussions to take place in confidentiality”, he told broadcaster DR. He also rejected a connection to the bill, tabled by his ministry on Thursday, DR writes.

“It’s correct that it’s the government’s wish to establish a new asylum system where processing of asylum claims is moved out of Denmark. We are in dialogue with a number of countries about that,” the minister also said.

The agreement signed in Rwanda is “a framework on future partnerships” related to “environment and climate”, he said, adding “on the Danish side, we wish to manage migration in a better and fairer way. We have agreed to pursue this.”

Denmark’s Social Democratic government has a long-standing desire to establish a reception centre for refugees in a third country.

Rwanda in 2019 built a centre for asylum seekers stranded in Libya, but that centre has received a limited number of asylum seekers so far, DR reports based on UN data.

The Danish foreign ministry earlier confirmed that the two countries have agreed to work more closely on asylum and migration.

“This is not a case of a binding agreement, but a mutual framework for future partnership. The two governments will spend the coming period discussing concrete areas where the partnership can be strengthened,” the ministry wrote to DR.

The Danish Refugee Council criticised the bill, tweeting that “transfer of asylum seekers to a third country, as (proposed) in (parliament) today is irresponsible, lacks solidarity and should be condemned”.

“Over 80 million people have been driven from their homes while Denmark has a historically low number of asylum seekers. In that light it’s shameful that the government is trying to buy its way out of the responsibility for protecting refugees… it sets a dangerous example,” the NGO added.

The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, has also responded to the law proposed by the government on Thursday.

The implementation of such a law would “rely on an agreement with a third country”, the UNHCR noted.

The agency wrote that it “strongly urges Denmark to refrain from establishing laws and practices that would externalize its asylum obligations” under UN conventions.

READ ALSO: Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020

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2022 SWEDISH ELECTION

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend showed how Sweden’s third party, the far-right Sweden Democrats, has shaped Swedish politics since the last elections four years ago, argues David Crouch

OPINION: The far right now dominates the immigration debate in Sweden

In the build-up to the 2018 elections, the world’s media descended on Stockholm, expecting a breakthrough by the Sweden Democrats (SD) who had been polling as high as 25 percent. In the end, SD took third place with around 18 percent of the vote.

Four years later, SD are hovering at around the same level in the polls. However, Swedish politics has been utterly transformed, as the other main parties have moved onto political terrain previously occupied by SD.

This would have been unthinkable just a few short years ago. When they first entered parliament, SD were treated as political pariahs, a racist party, held at arm’s length by the other parties who refused to cooperate with them in any way.

Attempts to bring the SD into the mainstream of Swedish politics fell flat. The leader of the centre-right Moderates lost her job after suggesting it was “time to stop demonising” the SD. Her replacement, Ulf Kristersson, said he would neither negotiate nor govern with them. After the elections, two smaller centre-right parties – the Centre and the Liberals – agreed to prop up the coalition of Social Democrats and Greens to prevent the SD gaining any influence in parliament.

It was clear, however, that the only chance for the centre-right to govern would be with SD support. After all, in Finland and Norway right-wing populist parties had entered government with the centre right. And in Denmark, the centre-right had governed with populist support. If it worked there, why not in Sweden?

In early 2019, the SD leader Jimmie Åkesson famously had meatballs for lunch with Ebba Busch, the leader of the tiny Christian Democrats, who acted as a bridge-builder. A few months later, Kristersson met the SD leader for the first time in his Stockholm office. By early 2021 the cordon sanitaire dividing the parties had been truly dismantled, and in the autumn the three parties presented a joint budget.

Meanwhile, the Moderates stepped up their rhetoric against immigration and crime. But perhaps the influence has worked both ways? Maybe the far-right have toned down their policies, compromising with the centre so the parties can work together?

On the contrary, Åkesson and other leading SD figures have stoked up the fire and brimstone in their anti-immigrant message. For the SD, the problem is dark-skinned immigrants from Muslim countries whose values conflict with Sweden’s and who should therefore be deported.

The response among the Moderates – and also the governing Social Democrats – has been a deafening silence.

After the Easter riots in six Swedish cities, the Social Democrat government proposed a package of coercive measures to help the police and social services crackdown on criminals.

A televised debate between the party leaders last weekend brought this out very clearly. More than that, it showed how the Sweden Democrats have shaped Swedish politics since the country last voted four years ago.

In the debate on Sunday, prime minister Magdalena Andersson talked about being tough on crime and boasted that Sweden now has one of the strictest immigration regimes in Europe.

It was left to the Green Party (polling 4 percent) and the Centre Party (6 percent) to challenge the SD on immigration. They pointed out that the violent minority is tiny, and that tens of thousands of recent immigrants hold down jobs, obey the law and contribute to Swedish society.

Centre Party leader Annie Lööf listed some of the SD’s more extreme proposals, including demolition of high-immigration neighbourhoods, dawn raids on refugees, and collective punishment for crimes committed by a single family member. This was “pure racism”, Lööf said – where were the “red lines”, beyond which the centre-right would turn against the SD?

All the parties agree that segregation along ethnic lines has gone too far in Sweden, that integration efforts have failed and that something must be done. But there is a paucity of bold ideas that could really make a difference.

Immigration will once more be a battleground at the elections in September, with key politicians competing to be the toughest in dealing with unruly “foreigners”. Meanwhile, the underlying problems that have fuelled disaffection among people with immigrant backgrounds are unlikely to be addressed.

A few weeks ago, Swedish journalist Janne Josefsson spoke to Ahmed, one of the stone-throwing youngsters who shocked the country at Easter.

“We are second class citizens. You let us in, but then Sweden doesn’t care about us,” Ahmed told him. “We are trapped here. I have studied, but will never get a good job. At least once a week we are stopped by the police. In the end, you feel hunted, like a quarry. Do you understand?”

It seems that Swedish politicians don’t really want to.

David Crouch is the author of Almost Perfekt: How Sweden Works and What Can We Learn From It. He is a freelance journalist and a lecturer in journalism at Gothenburg University.

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Listen to a discussion on Sweden and immigration on Sweden in Focus, The Local’s podcast. 

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