GENEVA - The U.N. refugee agency is sharply critical of a new Danish law, which aims to rid itself of asylum-seekers fleeing violence and persecution by transferring responsibilities for their care to third countries.
Amendments to the Danish Aliens Act were approved June 3 by parliament. They go into effect if Denmark reaches an agreement with a third country to take the asylum-seekers off its hands, while their cases are being processed.
The U.N. refugee agency expresses alarm at that prospect and says it has repeatedly raised its concerns and objections to the Danish government. UNHCR spokesman Babar Balloch says the forcible transfer of asylum-seekers and the abdication of Denmark’s responsibility for the asylum process risks weakening international protections for vulnerable refugees.
“UNHCR strongly opposes efforts that seek to externalize or outsource asylum and international protection obligations to other countries. Such efforts to evade responsibility run counter to the letter and spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention,” Balloch said.
The Danish government says it has not yet found any third countries willing to accept asylum-seekers, but it is in negotiation with several candidate countries.
Over the past five decades, the UNHCR has helped some 50 million refugees start a new life. Currently, the agency cares for 26 million refugees in all regions of the world. Nearly 90 percent of the world’s refugees live in developing or in the least-developed countries.
Balloch says the UNHCR is extremely concerned that a wealthy country, such as Denmark, appears to be unwilling to share those responsibilities.
“Plans to externalize asylum processing and protection of refugees to a third country … seriously risk setting in motion a process of gradual erosion of the international protection system, which has withstood the test of time over the past 70 years, and for which we have to have a collective responsibility to safeguard,” Balloch said.
UNHCR officials say they will continue to discuss the issue with Danish authorities and seek to find practical ways forward. They urge the Danish government to uphold its international commitments today as it has done in the past.