The refugee crisis in the summer of 2015 prompted the right-wing minority government to significantly tighten immigration and asylum rules. Since then, the number of spontaneous refugee applications has dropped from 21,316 in 2015 to only 2,898 through the end of October this year.
Still, the government’s work to reduce the numbers of refugees in Denmark is not finished. In late November, they introduced a law to Parliament that would scale back the country’s obligations to the UN refugee resettlement program, which it joined in 1989.
Denmark currently accepts 1,500 refugees every three years from UN refugee centres around the world. They are selected by delegates sent by the Danish Immigration Service who are charged with prioritising refugees that they believe will integrate easily into Danish society.
The government now wants to set the number of refugees to be resettled on an annual basis.
“The assessment needs to be made based on the social and economic capacity of the society, taking into consideration the number of spontaneous refugee applications that are made in Denmark,” the government states in the law summary, adding that it would be up to the Immigration Ministry to decide how many UN refugees to accept each year, with 500 set as an upper limit.
“We simply need some space to breathe,” Integration Minister Inger Støjberg told Ritzau. “There is a very low flow of refugees to Denmark. We haven’t seen a slower flow in the past nine years, so there is no doubt that our efforts have really worked. But there are still far too few who are self-sufficient in Denmark. That is one of the elements that plays a part.”
In a letter to Parliament during the law’s open consultation, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR noted that in 2016, 125,800 refugees were resettled around the world – a 20-year high. But while the number of displaced people needing new homes rose to 1.2 million in 2017, resettlement quotas had dropped.
“European resettlement has therefore become an increasingly important part of the global resettlement program,” they write. “It is against this background that UNHCR sincerely regrets the Danish decision to halt both the 2016 and 2017 quotas, as global solidarity is currently needed to a greater extent in a long time.”
The UNCHR also criticised the government’s criteria that refugees be selected based on their “integration potential” so as not to be a burden on Denmark’s “social capacity”.
“UNHCR has always recommended that resettlement allocations be made primarily on the basis of the identified protection needs of eligible refugees.”
Denmark is the only country to formally restrict its participation in the resettlement program.
A number of organisations, including the Red Cross, the Danish Refugee Council, DanChurchAid, and the Danish Institute for Human Rights all noted that Denmark signed the September 2016 New York Declaration on refugees and migrants.
“It establishes that countries support several legal pathways to protection in third countries, including increasing resettlements. The Red Cross believes that Denmark, by cancelling its multiannual quota, neglects these promises,” states the Red Cross.
The Immigration Service disagrees.
“In 2016, Denmark was the fifth-largest humanitarian donor in the world, measured per capita,” they write. “In the budget for 2018, 2.5 billion kroner has been set aside for humanitarian aid, which is Denmark’s largest-ever humanitarian budget.”
Other signatories of the declaration have increased their commitment to resettle refugees, however. According to the UNHCR, EU countries had resettled 32,911 refugees by September this year – more than were resettled in all of 2016.
Christian Friis Bach, secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council, argues that this demonstrates that EU countries recognise the importance of strengthening the resettlement programme.
“They have increased the number of resettled refugees, and Denmark is alone in sending a completely wrong signal at a very unfortunate moment,” Bach told Kristeligt Dagblad.
In late November, 40 prominent academics, journalists and cultural figures signed an open letter together with the leaders of the major Danish aid agencies calling for the government to change course.
“The resettlement program is a sign of solidarity with countries such as Lebanon, Uganda, Pakistan, Iran and Ethiopia, which are home to more than a million refugees each. It supports the refugee work in Turkey, where more than three million refugees now live. In modern times, there has never been such great need for international redistribution based on global responsibility and solidarity with the world’s weakest.”
While the opposition Social Democrats support the minority right-wing government’s proposal – granting them a majority in Parliament – the Danish People’s Party (DF) has yet to signal its support. According to Ritzau, DF is hesitating because the current language of the law could allow a future government to accept more than 500 UN refugees per year. M