The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has accused Denmark of enacting “deeply concerning” immigration policies which “could fuel fear [and] xenophobia,” and has insisted that Denmark must reverse recent policies designed to make itself a less attractive destination for illegal immigrants.
Denmark has recently sought to dissuade illegal immigrants from making their way to the country by cutting the benefits handing out to migrants, and placing adverts abroad advising people of the change and warning them not to come. The country has been overwhelmed by migrants recently, with many local town halls reporting that they are not able to cover the costs of accommodating the newcomers.
There are signs that the policies are working; in September some Middle Eastern migrants told a Danish journalist that they wanted to be relocated to Sweden or Finland, where “salaries for refugees” (i.e. government benefits) are higher.
However, in a biting 18 page report the UNHCR has deeply censured Denmark, accusing the northern European country of violating its “long tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need,” the Local has reported.
“The proposals presented by the government are evidently aimed at conveying a message to make it ‘less attractive’ to seek asylum in Denmark, and is a deeply concerning response to humanitarian needs. UNHCR regrets that Denmark is restricting its asylum legislation for the sole purpose of curbing the number of asylum-seekers, instead of focusing on promoting and supporting a fair distribution of asylum-seekers within all EU Member States,” the report reads.
Denmark’s plans to tighten rules on family reunification and the obtainment on permanent residency, also came in for criticism – the report claims the measures will negatively impact integration.
And plans to confiscate valuables from migrants to cover the costs of accommodation and processing of asylum applications was slammed as “an affront to their dignity and an arbitrary interference with their right to privacy”.
Danish Integration Minister Inger Stoejberg defended the policy, writing on Facebook:
“I can see that some foreign media are pouring scorn over (the fact) that we in the future may withdraw asylum seekers’ valuables and demand that they should pay for their stay in asylum centres themselves.
“There is no reason to criticise, since it is already the case that if you as a Dane have valuables for more than 10,000 kroner ($1,450, 1,340 euros) it may be required that this is sold before you can receive unemployment benefits.”
The policy specifically excludes items “necessary to maintain a modest standard of living” such as watches and mobile phones; also items with a personal, sentimental value, unless they are high value items.
Nonetheless, the UNHCR insists: “The signal Denmark’s introduction of restrictions sends to other countries in the world […] is worrisome and could fuel fear, xenophobia and similar restrictions that would reduce – rather than expand – the asylum space globally and put refugees in need at life-threatening risks.”
The government’s plans to tighten migration enjoy strong support in the Danish Parliament, however, and are expected to be approved in the coming weeks.