Migration policy in Denmark: Restrictive and denying

Denmark demonstrates with its migration legislation mainly one thing: rejection. Migrants and refugees are poised to feel that they are unwanted.

Refugees in Denmark on their way to Sweden in the fall of 2015 Foto: dpa

In recent years, Denmark has introduced increasingly restrictive policies regarding migrants and asylum seekers. A measure that received widespread attention and criticism was the January 2016 amendment to the Aliens Act allowing police to search asylum seekers and seize cash and valuables worth more than 1,300 Euros. Other controversial proposals have included the temporary postponement of the right to family reunification, new restrictions on the ability to obtain a permanent residence permit, and the shortening of the length of temporary residence permits.

A November 2015 amendment to the Aliens Act concerns immigration-related detention. The amendment reportedly provides “special circumstances“ for detaining asylum seekers, including the detention of asylum seekers who are part of “massive arrivals,“ and weakens the judicial review of detention. The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights commented about the law, “I am concerned that the possibility of making increased use of detention in specific circumstances, combined with the elimination of important legal safeguards regarding detention, could lead to detention being used disproportionately and indiscriminately in respect of asylum-seekers, in contradiction with Article 5 of the ECHR which protects the right to liberty.“

Denmark has also enforced laws that punish citizens who provide basic forms of assistance to undocumented non-citizens. In March 2016, a high-profile Danish advocate for children’s rights was prosecuted and fined 3,000 Euros for helping transport Syrian refugees who sought to walk from Germany to Sweden. Under the Aliens Act, transporting undocumented non-citizens is a crime of human smuggling. According to police statistics, almost 280 people were charged under this provision during September 2015 – February 2016.

In average 92 non-citizens held in immigration detention daily in 2014, 86 in 2012, and 65 in 2011. As of April 2016, Denmark used three facilities for the purposes of long-term immigration detention—two dedicated facilities and one prison with a specialized section. The longest standing immigration facility is the Ellebaek Prison and Probation Establishment for Asylum-seekers and Others Deprived of their Liberty (formerly Sandholm Prison), which as of 2014 had a standard capacity of 118 (and a surge capacity of 137). In early 2016, Denmark opened a new facility at Vridsløselille Prison, a former prison now used exclusively for immigration related reasons, which has a capacity of 240. Reportedly as of March 2016 rejected asylum seekers were locked in their cells at Vridsløselille Prison for 23 hours a day because the facility lacked the necessary personnel to ensure that detainees could securely walk freely around the facility. The country also has a specialized 10-persons unit in Aabenraa Prison for holding non-citizens on immigration charges. All these facilities are run by the Danish Prison and Probation Service.

The number of persons who were ordered by Danish authorities to leave the country and subsequently left (including both “voluntary“ and forced returns) increased sharply from 455 in 2011 to 1,375 in 2012. In 2015, the total number of persons returned was 2,655, of whom 2,480 were deported; a total of 1,400 persons were returned in 2014, of whom 1,315 were deported. On the other hand, according to the Danish Refugee Council, Denmark “repatriated“ 323 persons in 2015, 320 in 2014 and 393 in 2013. Out the total number of persons repatriated in 2015, 75 were from Turkey, 59 from Bosnia and Herzegovina, and 20 from Serbia. It is not clear how the figures on repatriation and return relate to each other.

Despite its restrictive approach to immigration, Denmark does not face the same migratory pressures as its neighbors. In 2014, 14,680 people applied for international protection in Denmark, compared to 20,935 in 2015. In 2013, Denmark apprehended 395 undocumented persons and only 515 in 2014. These are among the lowest apprehension rates in Europe, with only Latvia and Luxembourg reporting lower total apprehensions in 2014.

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