A refugee tent camp in Thisted, Denmark | Photo: EPA/Sara Gangsted
A refugee tent camp in Thisted, Denmark | Photo: EPA/Sara Gangsted

Denmark has received blowback from EU parliamentarians and NGOs over its asylum policy – including the decision to declare parts of Syria 'safe' and plans to move its asylum centers to non-EU countries.

Denmark's Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye defended his country's asylum policy during a meeting with the European Union's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) on Thursday, January 13.

Tesfaye said that his government aims to "create a new asylum system that is fairer and more human" and to "eliminate incentives for illegal immigration."

Denmark's anti-migration policies

The main issues that came up during Tesfaye's meeting with EU parliamentarians were twofold: Firstly, Denmark's decision to declare parts of Syria "safe" and its subsequent withdrawal of internal protection from hundreds of Syrians. Secondly, Denmark's proposal to move the asylum process abroad to non-EU countries.

Denmark was the first EU country to declare that parts of Syria -- namely Damascus and the surrounding region -- were 'safe'. This has meant that hundreds of refugees had their international protection withdrawn. While no deportations to Syria from Denmark have been reported thus far, the people who have lost their protection are typically no longer allowed to work and forced to live in pre-deportation centers -- often far from families and friends.

In June, the Danish parliament passed a law that calls for sending asylum seekers to countries outside Europe to examine their cases -- the latest in a number of regulations aimed at reducing the number of migrants and refugees in Denmark.

Criticism against Danmark's policies

Several LIBE committee members' expressed concern that Denmark's policies were not in line with EU solidarity because they encouraged people to leave Denmark for other EU countries, according to a report by The Local.

Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld -- of the centrist Renew group -- reportedly criticized the decision to withdraw Syrians of their refugee status, asking the Danish minister "how do you expect them (the refugees) to integrate in Denmark with the threat of being sent back," The Local reported, quoting Danish news wire Ritzau.

Tesfaye reportedly defended his country's policies, arguing that "to eliminate incentives for illegal immigration and pave the way to a more orderly asylum system," the Danish politician said, the procedure "must be offshored from the EU. This is why the government has proposed a mechanism through which asylum seekers would be moved to a partner country outside the Schengen zone for the elaboration of their asylum requests."

The government proposal, he said, "is not against" the EU pact on immigration and asylum proposed by the European Commission, but holds that it is necessary to do more to "interrupt this circle and counter the traffickers' model."

UN refugee agency against policies

Denmark's tough migration and asylum policy have sparked criticism not just from EU MEPs, but also UNHCR and several NGOs.

UNHCR's Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Gillian Triggs, said that these practices threaten the rights of those seeking safety and protection, "demonizing" them and punishing them, and that they could put their lives at risk.

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has repeatedly criticized the government's policies, including declaring Syria partly 'safe'.


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