Source: Twitter/@RwandaMFA
Source: Twitter/@RwandaMFA

Denmark and Rwanda have signed a memorandum on asylum and migration, setting out plans to shift asylum procedures outside of the EU. Thereby the signatories aim to change the current "unfair and unethical" asylum system.

The governments of Denmark and Rwanda signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration issues on April 27.

The memorandum calls for changes to the "unfair and unethical" current asylum system, which the signatories say is "incentivizing children, women and men to embark on dangerous journeys along migratory routes, while human traffickers earn fortunes."

The document also highlights the need to find new ways of addressing the challenges and root causes of migration and "providing more and better protection of refugees in the regions of conflict and increasing assistance to host nations, countries of origin and transit."

Externalization of asylum obligations

The two countries envisage the processing of asylum applications to take place outside of the EU "in order to break the negative incentive structure of the present asylum system."

The memorandum seeks to strengthen Rwanda’s "Refugee Status Determination" capability, the legal or administrative process by which governments or the UN refugee agency UNHCR determine whether a person seeking international protection is considered a refugee.

Proposals to curb migration flows towards Europe by externalizing elements of the asylum system are not new in Denmark. In 2002 the Danish Centre for Human Rights and the European Commission published a study on the feasibility of processing asylum claims outside of the EU.

In a statement in March, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees urged the Danish government to refrain from externalizing their asylum obligations. Such practices "frustrate access to international protection, are inconsistent with global solidarity and responsibility sharing, regularly undermine the rights of asylum seekers and refugees and thus violate international obligations of States."

Burundian refugees queue to receive handout clothes from UNHCR at a refugee camp in Gashora, 55 kilometers south of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda on May 18, 2015 | Photo: EPA/Dai Kurokawa
Burundian refugees queue to receive handout clothes from UNHCR at a refugee camp in Gashora, 55 kilometers south of Kigali, the capital of Rwanda on May 18, 2015 | Photo: EPA/Dai Kurokawa

Offshore migrant centers scrapped

The Danish government previously scrapped a new bill which planned to introduce offshore "reception centers" hosted by third countries. The government made the U-turn after the recent visit to Rwanda by Danish foreign minister Mattias Tesfaye in which he signed the memorandum. 

However the memorandum refers to Rwanda's Emergency Transit Mechanism (ETM) center, which primarily houses vulnerable refugees evacuated from Libya, with the support of UNHCR. There have previously been concerns about the treatment of vulnerable evacuees in the ETM camps, especially minors.

On Tesfaye’s return from Rwanda, the Danish government initially remained secretive about the outcome of the trip and did not announce the signing of the document until several days later, while the Rwandan foreign ministry posted photographs on Twitter.

Hardline against immigration

Denmark’s ruling Social Democrats are well known for their hardline anti-immigration policies including aiming for “zero asylum seekers”. This harsh stance on immigration is also shared by other political parties, former immigration minister Inger Stojberg is currently being impeached over her policy of illegally separating underage asylum seeking couples.

Last week, protests took place across Denmark after the government declared parts of Syria "safe" and revoked the residency permits of 189 Syrians living in Denmark. This new deal with Rwanda is yet another push to hinder immigration and asylum applications in the country.

A memorandum of understanding is not legally binding, it simply sets the framework for future negotiations and cooperation between the two countries. 


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