The public debates on Denmark’s newly-approved asylum policies are red hot. One of the new economic moves to curb asylum “pressure” is a controversial plan to strip refugees of their valuables, including jewellery and cash. Justice Minister Søren Pind explained it like this on the Vi ses hos Clement TV programme: “We talk about important valuables that do not have personal impact. We are talking about a situation where a man might be walking with a suitcase full of diamonds while seeking shelter in Denmark.”
Such a suitcase is yet to be seen and, in the meantime, Minister of Integration Inger Støjberg has confirmed this shocking initiative repeatedly, which has caused international newspapers and social media to join the discussion. British online news source the Daily Beast, for example, compared it with the Nazis stealing Jewish property before and during World War Two. Many people on Twitter agree.
“[This] is a break with the rule of law,” says the liberal think tank Cepos. The Danish Refugee Council’s Andreas Kamm says that the government is tampering with the “basic pillar of the rule of law.”
In November, the Danish government presented a comprehensive asylum package — L62 — with 34 concrete moves to tighten asylum policies and procedures. With the backing of the parties in the blue (Conservative/Liberal) bloc and the Social Democrats, 13 such measures were adopted under a controversial express process which gave MPs just 24 hours to read and evaluate the proposed measures before the parliamentary vote. The rest, reported the Danish newspaper Politiken will be pushed through later.
According to lawyers, democracy requires a legal text to be clear and precise. Democratic principles are at the centre of political turmoil, claims Ræson: “The right to definition has moved from the lawyer’s text to the politician’s grace.” In many ways, the adoption of L62, is a milestone, both for refugees and asylum seekers as well as for the well-being of Danish democracy. By speeding up the process to introduce new laws, not giving enough time for debate and ignoring dissent from institutions such as the Danish Institute for Human Rights and various lawyers’ associations in Denmark, the political majority is curbing the basic elements of the rule of law and democracy, rather than simply the “historic refugee pressure”.
One of the measures allows the immigration minister, in special situations — it is unclear exactly what they are — to suspend the rule that the detainees must have their case heard in court within three days. This will deprive refugees of their liberty, without a clear deadline by which a judge must decide whether this is justified or not. The law was rushed through in a few days, with no time for debate and consultation.
This is a threat to the existing asylum system, in which people are allowed to integrate in local communities while their cases are being dealt with. These asylum centres now run the risk of becoming similar to Britain’s detention centres, in which refugees are imprisoned and stripped of their right to freedom of movement, whilst being kept in the dark about the length of their stay.
The adoption of L62 is a step towards majority “absolutism” in Danish politics, in which the political majority, by definition, is correct, not because they know best, but simply because they have a numerical advantage.
At least one of the majority parties, Venstre, has lost members due to the asylum policies. “I know that there are people in the Left who share my views,” Jens Rohde told Politiken. According to him, there has been a value shift which has pushed him to leave the Left and move to the Radical Left.
Today, between 100 and 200 refugees are likely to arrive at Copenhagen Central Railway Station and whereas, initially, stalls were set up to welcome them with food and clothes, the DSB national travel company has now banned them from the station. Volunteers have worked for the past four months to assist the initial 800 to 1000 refugees coming in every day. The Red Cross has now also appeared on the scene, renting a shop inside the central station where volunteers are working day and night, within a system that is now inherently detached from realities on the ground.
The majority parties are refusing to listen to people with knowledge of what is happening, experts and now also financial advisers, who are saying that Denmark is getting a reputation which is estimated to be having an impact on its international business relations. The move to adopt these new laws, therefore, not only stifles justice for the refugees and asylum, but also for ordinary Danes, as the government threatens the rule of law which is so essential for democracy.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.