UNHCR asks Denmark to reject proposal to move asylum seekers offshore

UNHCR asks Denmark to reject proposal to move asylum seekers offshore
Refugees at a temporary UNHCR camp on Greek island Lesbos. File photo: Yara Nardi/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix
The UN’s refugee agency UNHCR on Wednesday issued a statement in which it asked the Danish parliament not to pass a bill, tabled by the government, which would enable the country to house and process asylum seekers in third countries.

Danish ministers recently visited central African country Rwanda to agree a deal which has been rumoured to pave the way for such an arrangement.

According to the text of an agreement signed by the two countries during the visit, the vision of the Danish Government is that the processing of asylum applications should take place “outside of the EU in order to break the negative incentive structure of the present asylum system”, citing human trafficking as an unwanted outcome of it.

The memorandum stopped short, however, of explicitly referencing plans for Rwanda to host a reception centre.


In the statement, the UNHCR’s representative for the Nordic and Baltic countries Henrik M. Nordentoft wrote that “transfer of the asylum process and protection of refugees in a country outside of Europe is not a responsible or sustainable solution – and would also be in breach if the principles on which international refugee partnerships stand”.

“By initiating such a drastic and restrictive change to Danish refugee laws, Denmark risks starting a domino effect… this could lead to a frightening race to the bottom, where the lives and welfare of refugees will be put in danger and their protection significantly worsened,” Nordentoft added.

“The UNHCR therefore views the current Danish bill with great concern (because it) risks undermining the foundations of the international protection system for the world’s refugees.

“In the long term, this could lead to refugees finding it much harder to find the necessary protection they need and have the right to, while we will also see an increased and more uncontrolled movement of refugees away from neighbouring regions (to their home countries,” Nordentoft also wrote.

The agency previously noted that comparable plans in the past have failed to be implemented without breaking international obligations set by both refugee and human rights conventions.

Instead, the UNHCR urged Denmark to “build on its active participation in the global refugee cooperation and participate in finding mutual solutions in the European setting.”

Based on the reasons listed in the statement, the UNHCR “asks the members of the Danish parliament not to support the tabled bill,” Nordentoft concluded.

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