The Danish government and the right-wing populist DF party have announced plans to send rejected asylum seekers pending deportation to a remote island in the Baltic Sea. The proposal faces widespread opposition.
The anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DF) and the Danish government are planning to banish "unwanted" asylum-seekers pegged for future deportation to the isolated island of Lindholm, located some 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of the capital, Copenhagen.
Those to be moved to the 17-acre island (which is smaller than 10 football pitches) will largely be failed asylum seekers who can't presently be removed from Denmark due to a ban on deportation to certain countries of origin - as well as those with a criminal record.
Until recently, the island housed a laboratory for Denmark's state veterinary institute dealing with infectious animal diseases for almost a century. Under the plan, which was presented at the end of November 2018 by the government and the Danish People's Party, the uninhabited island would first be decontaminated by late 2019, with the new immigration facilities due to open in 2021 – unless there are legal challenges to the plan.
Initial projections say that around 100 people could be housed there, and that the scheme will cost the Danish taxpayer roughly €100 million over four years.
Not a prison island – at least on paper
In a tweet, accompanied by a cartoon featuring what presumably is supposed to represent a rejected asylum seeker with darker skin, the DF said that Denmark's new asylum island would be manned by police "around the clock," telling followers to "please share the good news."
"They are unwanted in Denmark, and they will feel that," Danish immigration minister, Inger Stojberg, who is a member of the conservative Vrestre party, said about the government plan.
DF spokesman Martin Henriksen meanwhile clarified that those housed on the island would be free to leave during the day, but stressed that the government would make frequent visits to the mainland difficult by hiking up the prices for the ferry and making the service less frequent.
"We're going to make it as cumbersome and expensive as possible," Henriksen said in a TV interview, and acknowledged that the asylum island might be in breach of international law while adding that his party didn't mind "challenging conventions."
Denmark currently has a minority government made up of three center-right parties that rely on the support of the right-wing populist DF to pass legislation through the parliament. Because of this arrangement, the DF wields more influence over parliament than its 12.3 percent share of the vote from the last general election would ordinarily warrant.
Proposal cannot be 'executed in reality'
Human rights activists have denounced the plan, calling it "degrading and inhumane." Steen D. Hartmann of the Stop Diskrimination movement demanded "that the government and the Danish People's Party stop their plans and improve the conditions for all rejected asylum seekers in Denmark," adding that the two existing deportation centers in Denmark were already "inhumane and terrible."
Conor Fortune of Amnesty International meanwhile drew parallels to Australia's offshore immigration islands, Nauru and Manus, saying that the introduction of these asylum centers "sparked an epidemic of trauma, self-harm and suicide attempts, even among children."
Birthe Ronn Hornbech, a former Danish immigration minister, called the island project "a joke" that cannot be "executed in reality," suggesting that the idea behind the island proposal is merely a ploy to pander to the DF voter base. "Nothing will come of this proposal," she wrote in her column in the Jyllands-Posten daily newspaper.
Change in direction of refugee policy
In recent years, Denmark has tightened its laws for immigrants, extending the period of time that family members must wait before they can join a refugee in Denmark from one year to three. Other changes include reducing benefits for asylum seekers, shortening temporary residence permits and stepping up efforts to deport those whose applications are rejected.
At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2016, a law allowed the country's authorities to seize valuables from migrants to help finance the costs of their stay - a move that drew outrage from human rights organizations.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen said in a party meeting last month that the Danish government's attitude toward new refugees would have to shift in future from integrating them to hosting them until they can safely return to their countries of origin.
"It's not easy to ask families to go home, if they've actually settled (in Denmark.) But it is the morally right thing. We should not make refugees immigrants," he said.