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Denmark Faces Criticism For Immigrant Reforms

  • Zlatica Hoke

Danish lawmakers are defending their country's new law on immigration, aimed at making the small Scandinavian country less attractive to migrants.

Under a law adopted Tuesday, asylum-seekers have to hand over valuables worth more than 10,000 Danish crowns (about $1,500) to help pay for their food and living costs in Denmark. Furthermore, they will have to wait three years before they can bring in family members.

Rights groups have criticized the decision, but Danish officials say the country already has done more than its fair share to help relieve Europe's immigration crisis.

What makes Denmark most attractive to migrants is its generous social welfare system.

Denmark's Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg listens to the debate in the Danish Parliament, Jan. 26, 2016.

Denmark's Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg listens to the debate in the Danish Parliament, Jan. 26, 2016.

"Denmark is in a situation where we have received so many asylum-seekers in the past year that our very small -- you know we are one of Europe's smallest countries -- our welfare economy is under a lot of pressure," said Marcus Knuth, a Danish government spokesman.

To further deter asylum-seekers from heading to Denmark, the parliament has imposed a three-year waiting period for those who want to bring in their family members. A spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency expressed concern about the new measures.

"This relates to a number of things, including reduced social benefits, restrictive access to family unification, and this at a time when the need for solidarity and responsibility sharing at the EU level really is the first priority," said Adrian Edwards, UNHCR spokesman.

Danish officials say the rules that apply to immigrants are no different from those that apply to Danes.

"We're simply asking that if asylum-seekers -- in the rare case where they do come with enough means to pay for themselves then -- following exactly the same rules as for Danish citizens wishing to be on unemployment benefits: if you can pay for yourself, well then you should pay for yourself before the Danish welfare system does it," Knuth said.

Few migrants are worried about this part of the law.

"People who come here, do not have money with them. Right now, I don't have money to cut my hair," one migrant said.

FILE - A new migrant reception camp is seen in Vordingborg, 100 km south of Copenhagen, Denmark, Nov. 26, 2015. The camp has the capacity to hold up to 2,000 people.

FILE - A new migrant reception camp is seen in Vordingborg, 100 km south of Copenhagen, Denmark, Nov. 26, 2015. The camp has the capacity to hold up to 2,000 people.

Another migrant said, "If I had 10,000 kroner (1,500 US dollars), I'd never come here."

Separation from families

But many will be affected by the imposed separation from their families, a measure human rights groups have criticized the most.

"And we find there's a quite clear basis in international human rights law to say that that is a violation of the individual rights to family life," said Jonas Christoffersen, head of the Danish Institute for Human Rights.

Denmark registered more than 20,000 asylum applications last year, making the country of 5.5 million, one of the top European Union destinations for migrants, along with Germany and Sweden.

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