On June 3rd, Denmark marked the latest policy development in its increasingly hostile stance towards refugees. Passed by an overwhelming majority, the Danish Parliament amended the Danish Aliens Act to allow asylum seekers to be relocated outside of Europe while their claims are being processed. The move has prompted intense criticism from across civil society, with human rights organizations, politicians, and international organizations uniting in their condemnation.
U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi remarked that “such efforts to evade responsibility run counter to the letter and spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention.” Similarly, Adalbert Jahnz, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said that “external processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection.”
Not only does this policy shift deny Denmark any moral or legal responsibility for refugees arriving on their territory, but the Secretary General of the Danish Refugee Council, Charlotte Slente, also points out that this third-country processing model “does not yet exist.” Denmark does not have any kind of agreement with potential countries that may be willing to temporarily house its asylum claimants, and there has been little detail as to the logistics of this move.
If it were to be realized, an externalized asylum process could bring dire consequences for refugees and asylum seekers. Developing countries already host approximately 90% of the world’s refugees, often in inhumane and unsanitary conditions. Indefinite detention is commonplace, while many refugees spend decades languishing in temporary housing. Complex and costly deterrence measures divert time and resources that could easily be spent on constructing a more humane and effective international migration system.
Unfortunately, Denmark appears devoted to ramping up its deterrence measures. In March, Denmark also became the first European country to revoke Syrian refugees’ residency permits, judging that Damascus is now safe to return to. This followed a 2019 shift in policy, whereby the Prime Minister of Denmark announced that their previously integrationist approach would be replaced by pursuing the goal of “zero asylum seekers.”
One of the most perplexing aspects of this policy shift is the minuscule number of Danish asylum claimants. In 2020, just 1,457 people applied for protection, whilst the integration schemes for those granted refugee status were reported to have gone smoothly. Nonetheless, refugees remain a politically divisive issue in Denmark. Despite being governed by a left-wing coalition led by the Social Democrats, many attribute Denmark’s rightward shift to the feared political threat of the far-right Danish People’s Party.
Refugees are currently in a perilous position. Deterrence measures are being intensified worldwide, whilst the continuing COVID-19 crisis only adds to the complex array of threats to refugees’ safety and security. In such times, it is vital for wealthy nations to exercise moral leadership. Instead, Denmark has shirked its responsibility towards refugees, seeking to quell its right-wing factions not through dialogue, but by emulating them.