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IMMIGRATION

Danish MPs agree to send asylum seekers outside Europe

Denmark's parliament on Thursday adopted a law enabling it to open asylum reception centres outside Europe where applicants would live while their case is processed, with the host country also taking them in if granted asylum.

Danish MPs agree to send asylum seekers outside Europe
An Eritrean refugee child stands under an umbrella at Mai Aini Refugee camp, in Ethiopia, on January 30, 2021. Danish media have mentioned Ethiopia as a possible site for the camp. Photo: Eduardo Soteras / AFP

Known for having one of Europe’s harshest stances on immigration, the wealthy Scandinavian country aims to deter migrants from coming to Denmark at all.

Despite criticism from humanitarian organisations and some leftwing parties, the bill, proposed by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen’s Social Democrats, was adopted by 70 votes to 24.

Under the law, asylum seekers would have to submit an application in person at the Danish border and then be flown to an asylum centre outside Europe while their application is being processed by the host country.

If the application is approved and the person is granted refugee status, he or she would be given the right to live in the host country, but not in Denmark.

If it is rejected, the migrant would have to leave the host country. No country has agreed to collaborate with Denmark yet, but the government says it is in talks with five to 10 countries, without identifying them.

Danish media have mentioned Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia as possibilities. Denmark is meanwhile known to be in talks with Rwanda.

The two have signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration cooperation, though the document doesn’t specifically cover external asylum processing.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, criticised the law as “contrary to the principles of international refugee cooperation.”

“By initiating such a drastic and restrictive change in Danish refugee legislation, Denmark risks starting a domino effect, where other countries in Europe and in neighbouring regions will also explore the possibility of limiting the protection of refugees on their soil,” UNHCR’s representative in the Nordic and Baltic countries, Henrik Nordentoft, told news agency Ritzau.

Denmark has repeatedly made headlines in recent years with its anti-immigration policies, including its official “zero refugees” target, its withdrawal of residence permits from Syrians now that it deems parts of the war-torn country safe, and its crackdown on Danish “ghettos” in a bid to reduce the number of “non-Western” residents.

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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. 

Click HERE to listen to Sweden in Focus on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or Google Podcasts.

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