Denmark Passes Law Allowing Asylum Seekers to Be Processed Outside Europe

LONDON — The Parliament of Denmark passed a law on Thursday that allows the nation to relocate asylum seekers outside of Europe to have their refugee claims assessed, despite criticism from rights groups and the United Nations.

The law is the latest in a series of hard-line immigration measures that have been introduced in the Nordic nation in recent years — particularly after the 2015 migration crisis in Europe — to discourage asylum seekers. Those moves have been widely criticized by rights groups, and some have warned that the new measure could threaten the internationally established rights of refugees to protection.

The law would allow Denmark to move people out of the country to asylum centers in an undetermined partner country for case reviews, and they could possibly remain there as refugees. Denmark has not yet reached an agreement with any country to accept its asylum seekers, but a potential deal could include successful asylum seekers receiving protections in the partner country.

The bill, an amendment to Denmark’s Aliens Act, passed with wide support from lawmakers, tightens policies already seen as the most stringent in Europe. The law aims to allow in only the number of refugees Denmark has committed to resettle under a United Nations quota system and no more.

“If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark,” Rasmus Stoklund, a government spokesman, told the Danish broadcaster DR on Thursday ahead of the bill’s passage, according to Reuters.

Rights groups and international governing bodies have been quick to denounce the new measure, noting that it is likely incompatible with international protections for asylum seekers and refugees.

“This represents a fundamental shift in how the international protection system works,” said Nikolas Feith Tan, a senior researcher at the Danish Institute for Human Rights, adding that it was still unclear how the country planned to implement the law or what third country would be involved. “Its difficult to assess the legality of something that is so imprecise and unclear.”

Mr. Feith Tan said it was key to understand that the law is not just about asylum processing, but also a plan for moving refugee protections elsewhere.

“The Danish government will need to ensure that asylum seekers not only have access to a fair and efficient asylum procedure, but that those found to be refugees can access protection in the third country,” he said.

Last month, the United Nation’s refugee agency, U.N.H.C.R., urged lawmakers not to pass the measure, with Henrik Nordentoft, the agency’s representative for the Nordic and Baltic countries saying it “risks undermining the foundation of the international protection system for the world’s refugees.”

Shortly after the decision, the agency said in a statement that it is “opposed to national initiatives that forcibly transfer asylum seekers to other countries and undermine the principles of international refugee protection.”

“U.N.H.C.R. is very disappointed that Denmark is continuing to pursue this vision, despite the serious human rights concerns U.N.H.C.R. has raised,” the statement said.

The organization did note that the new measures will not go into effect in Denmark until a formal agreement has been reached with a third country, and the new law requires any arrangement for asylum seekers to fully comply with Denmark’s international obligations under international refugee and human rights law.

Thursday’s move is in line with a goal of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who said earlier this year that she aimed to see Denmark have “zero asylum seekers.”

The growth in support for the country’s right-wing Danish People’s Party has driven Ms. Frederiksen’s center-left Social Democrats further to the right to try to win back some voters, and her focus on tamping down immigration in recent elections is proving successful.

In 2019, Demark declared Syria — a country still in the midst of a yearslong civil war — to be “safe” and began withdrawing residence permits from some Syrian refugees. That action also has been widely condemned by rights groups and the United Nations refugee agency.

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