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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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SWEDISH CITIZENSHIP

‘The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,’ Migration minister says

Sweden's Migration Minister has responded to criticism of the government's proposal to abolish permanent residency, telling an interviewer that the hope is that holders will gain full citizenship rather than get downgraded to temporary status.

'The idea is to convert permanent residency into Swedish citizenship,' Migration minister says

“The main idea behind the [Tidö] agreement is that we should convert permanent residency to citizenship,” Maria Malmer Stenergard, from the right-wing Moderate Party, told the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.”You should not be here forever on a permanent residence permit. A clear path to citizenship is needed.”

I envision that you will receive individual plans for how to achieve this,” she continued. “Learn the language, earn a living, and have knowledge of Swedish society, so that you can fully become a Swedish citizen.” 

Malmer Stenergard said it was still unclear whether a planned government inquiry into the possibility of “converting…existing permanent residence permits” would also open the way for those who have been given a permanent right to live in the country to be downgraded to a temporary residency permit. 

“We’ll have to look at that,” she said. “There is a problem with positive administrative decisions and changing them, which the Migration Agency’s director general Mikael Ribbenvik has been aware of. We also state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law shall continue to apply.” 

READ ALSO: What do we know about Sweden’s plans to withdraw permanent residency?

In the Tidö Agreement, the deal between the far-right Sweden Democrats and the three government parties, it says that “asylum-related residence permits should be temporary and the institution of permanent residence permits should be phased out to be replaced by a new system based on the immigrant’s protection status”.

It further states that “an inquiry will look into the circumstances under which existing permanent residence permits can be converted, for example through giving affected permit holders realistic possibilities to gain citizenship before a specified deadline. These changes should occur within the framework of basic legal principles.”

Malmer Stenergard stressed that the government would only retroactively reverse an administrative decision (over residency) if a way can be found to make such a move compatible with such principles. 

“This is why we state in the Tidö Agreement that basic principles of administrative law must apply,” she said. 

She said the government had not yet come to a conclusion on what should happen to those with permanent residency who either cannot or are unwilling to become Swedish citizens. 

“We’re not there yet, but of course we’re not going to be satisfied with people just having an existing permanent residency, which in many cases has been granted without any particularly clear demands, if they don’t then take the further steps required for citizenship.” 

This did not mean, however, that those with permanent residency permits should be worried, she stressed. 

“If your ambition is to take yourself into Swedish society, learn the language, become self-supporting, and live according to our norms and values, I think that there’s a very good chance that you will be awarded citizenship.” 

She said that even if people couldn’t meet the requirements for citizenship, everyone with permanent residency should at least have “an individual plan for how they are going to become citizens”, if they want to stay in Sweden. 

When it comes to other asylum seekers, however, she said that the government’s aim was for residencies to be recalled more often. 

“We want to find a way to let the Migration Agency regularly reassess whether the grounds for residency remain. The aim is that more residencies should be recalled, for example, if a person who is invoking a need of asylum or other protection then goes back to their home country for a holiday.” 

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