Is Denmark planning to send asylum seekers to Rwanda?

A potential offshore asylum center in the African country has come under the spotlight after Denmark's decision to deport Syrians.

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Is Denmark planning to send asylum seekers to Rwanda www.africanpolicy.com

Denmark could be planning to send asylum seekers living in the country to an offshore asylum centre in Rwanda, as the European nation gets ready to move Syrian refugees from Damascus back home.

Two Danish ministers, Mattias Tesfaye, the Immigration Minister, and Development Minister, Flemming Moller Mortensen, travelled to Rwanda last week. On their arrival back in Denmark, the government tabled a new bill proposing to send asylum seekers to a third country during processing.

“It’s correct that it’s the government’s wish to establish a new asylum system where the processing of asylum claims is moved out of Denmark. We are in dialogue with a number of countries about that,” Tesfaye told the broadcaster DR, although he didn’t confirm whether Rwanda was chief among the options.

Rwandan media on the other hand reported that Denmark has signed two agreements in the country that promote cooperation on political and migration issues.

“Under the agreement, Rwanda is also expected to utilize Denmark’s expertise in addressing the international refugee crisis,” the New Times said.

The controversy

Denmark’s plan to send refugees to a third country was on the table before the immigration ministry proposed the bill last week. It is rife with controversy.

In March, the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR criticised the planned proposal in clear language, saying that it could lead to an erosion of the international protection system.

“UNHCR finds the Government’s vision of ‘zero asylum-seekers in the country inconsistent with global solidarity and responsibility sharing,” a statement regarding the bill said, reminding Denmark of the spirit of the refugee convention.

“Unilateral, national steps that do not share but shift responsibilities to countries and regions already hosting the vast majority of forcibly displaced people runs counter to international cooperation and solidarity,” the statement read.

The country’s immigration ministry, on the other hand, had already taken steps to actualise Denmark’s zero refugee vision. On the first day of March, Tesfaye announced that the country would send Syrian refugees back to Damascus, even though the world still considers the move dangerous.

The Danish Refugee Council reacted to the proposed bill of setting up an offshore asylum centre, saying that it is irresponsible and unsympathetic and should be rejected.

“Almost 80 million people have been displaced from their homes while DK has a historically low number of asylum seekers. In that light, it is shameful that the government is trying to buy itself out of taking part in the responsibility for refugee protection via the transfer of asylum seekers – it sets a dangerous example,” the NGO said in a tweet thread.

“We are deeply concerned about the prospect of a potential agreement on the transfer of asylum seekers to a reception center in a third country,” DRC, said, saying that the protection of refugees should not be negotiated in exchange for another agreement.

According to the proposed bill, Denmark would be divorced from the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, and the third country that shelters them takes up their responsibility, including financial burdens and deporting them to their country of origin, if decided.

What is at stake with such a bill is coercion and deprivation of liberty of asylum seekers and refugees’ rights and living conditions, the NGO says.

This is not the first time that wealthier states have struck asylum centre agreements with third countries.

In a similar fashion, Australia has been transferring asylum seekers to offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.

With the rise of right-wing nationalism in Europe, EU states have been increasingly sympathetic to the Australian model since 2015.

In 2018, thousands of Africans from Israel were deported to Rwanda and Uganda, regardless of their national origins.

A year after Israel’s deportations, Rwanda also accepted taking hundreds of African migrants held in detention centres in Libya, under a deal with the EU, in an effort to keep them at distance from Europe.

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