Closing Denmark to Muslims and refugees

A proposal to ban Muslim immigrants and refugees by the Danish People's Party (DF) hasn't enjoyed much political support. But like many of DF's policies, it may just need some time

“Stop immigration from Muslim countries.”

The statement could easily have come from the Republican presidential campaign, but it was actually the headline of an opinion piece in Berlingske newspaper.

Its author, MP Søren Espersen of the Danish People’s Party (DF), argued that the current strategies for tackling terrorism were naïve and called for a moratorium on immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries for a period of between four and six years.

“We must change our approach to the Islamic world and recognise that the vast majority of terrorism finds its roots there,” Espersen wrote, adding that the intelligence services needed more funding, and that Danish Muslims should be punished if they fail to report members of their community who shows signs of radicalisation.

Sharper rhetoric
DF has long been critical of Islam and of immigration from Muslim countries, though party leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl said in 2014 that religion should not be a factor in deciding whether someone should be allowed to immigrate to Denmark.

In an analysis, Politiken newspaper explained that increased fear of terrorism has allowed DF to sharpen its rhetoric. DF is widely considered to have set the agenda on immigration over the past two decades – so much so that the centre-left Social Democrats voted in favour of stricter immigration laws along with the right-wing bloc this year.

Espersen did not find much support for his proposal, however.

“DF’s latest proposal undermines not just human rights and conventions, but would ruin Denmark as a free, open and tolerant society,” political spokesperson for Alternativet, Rasmus Nordqvist, told Berlingske.

Jonas Christofferson, chairman of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, agreed with Nordqvist and argued that Denmark would have to abandon all human rights conventions in order to follow through with the proposal.

“On the one hand, it would be clear discrimination on the basis of nationality. But it also wouldn’t work, as non-Muslims from Muslim countries would not be allowed to enter Denmark, while Muslims from non-Muslim countries would.”

Shifting baseline
While no other parties support Espersen’s proposal, DF is no longer alone in advocating strict immigration regulations. An Infomedia survey in June found that 25 percent of Danes wanted a party with even stricter immigration policies than DF.

As immigration policies have become tighter, they have increasingly conflicted with Denmark’s obligations under international refugee and human rights conventions.

The governing Liberal Party (Venstre) has previously advocated introducing immigration regulations that would allow migrants from a select group of countries to settle in Denmark more easily. They abandoned the proposal, as it would certainly violate Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which prevents discrimination based on national origin.

New laws that postpone for three years the right of some refugees to apply for family reunification have also been criticised as potentially violating Article 8 of the ECHR.

No more asylum
Refugee conventions also limit the parliament’s ability to pursue certain immigration policies. Liberal Alliance (LA) wants changes so that Denmark will no longer have to process the spontaneous asylum applications of refugees who arrive on Danish soil.

“Denmark and Europe are under enormous pressure from millions of people who would rather live in our area of the world than where they were born,” LA MP Simon Emil Ammitzbøl told Berlingske.

“You cannot blame them, since our grandparents worked hard to develop one of the world’s richest and freest societies. But all the world’s population cannot live in Denmark or Europe, which is why we must put limits on who can come in and who must stay out.”

LA wants to funnel Danish resources to help those closer to the conflict areas, deport criminal foreigners, tighten Danish borders, and reform international conventions that prevent Denmark from enacting these policies.

Convention reform
PM Lars Løkke Rasmussen has already expressed an interest in reforming international conventions.

“If [the refugee crisis] continues, then we are not just facing a Danish challenge. It will be a European challenge. So a time will come we will have to discuss – which Denmark cannot do alone – whether the rules of the game can be adjusted,” he told TV2 News in December.

Rasmussen’s administration is unlikely to support Espersen’s proposal, however. Interestingly, Espersen himself was against the idea in December, when Donald Trump first floated the idea of banning Muslims from the US.

“He’s completely mad,” Espersen told TV2 News, before adding that he couldn’t see the policy being proposed in Denmark.

“No I can’t. As I said before, it’s really mad. We probably have a more developed understanding of democracy than Americans.” M


By Sophie Stenner Frahm

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