Europe’s refugee crisis

Denmark approves plan to banish ‘unwanted’ refugees to island once used for disease research

  • Government says migrants it doesn’t want include those with criminal records waiting to be deported and rejected asylum seekers
PUBLISHED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 1:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 21 December, 2018, 1:32pm

Denmark’s ruling coalition has approved a plan to put some 125 “unwanted” migrants on Lindholm, an uninhabited island.

Those selected will live in buildings once used by scientists for research on infectious diseases in animals.

The proposal has brought thousands of Danes out on to the streets to protest and made headlines around the world.

But the measure is part of a clear message from the government to foreigners: Denmark is full, and it cannot take any more migrants without jeopardising its social welfare model.

To get that message across, the government has multiplied the obstacles for would-be immigrants and introduced almost 100 changes restricting the rights of migrants.

The island exile idea was proposed by the populist, anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP), which is not part of the government but the idea was snapped up by the ruling centre-right coalition.

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The “unwanted” migrants who will live there include those with criminal records in the process of being deported, said a government statement.

Others include those already rejected for refugee status, but cannot be deported because of security concerns.

Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg of the conservative Liberal Party – which leads the coalition – put it more bluntly in a Facebook post.

“If you are unwanted in Danish society, you should not be a nuisance to ordinary Danes,” she wrote. “They are undesirable in Denmark, and they must feel it!”

Dejene, a 30-year-old asylum seeker from Ethiopia complained: “The Danes, they are quite welcoming. But the system, that’s really another story. They say out loud they don’t want us here. This country is not for foreigners.”

Since the 2015 surge in refugees making the perilous Mediterranean crossing into Europe, the Danish government has steadily and vocally hardened its line on immigration.

In 2015, the government ran adverts in the Lebanese press warning would-be immigrants that Copenhagen was toughening its conditions.

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The next year, it approved measures including the confiscation of cash and valuables belonging to migrants, and an extension from one year to three for family reunifications.

It has suspended its participation in the UN refugee agency programme, under which countries accept a quota of refugees.

The latest proposal to go before parliament is a cut in benefits to foreigners.

“They have to go home and help rebuild their countries as soon as possible,” said Martin Henriksen, migration spokesman for the People’s Party. “This is a fair and reasonable principle.”

Between 2015 and 2017, the number of asylum requests to Denmark fell by 75 per cent.

For Demetrios Papademetriou of the Migration Policy Institute, Denmark’s policies are at the extreme end of a Europe-wide trend.

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“The Danish government’s official behaviour toward migrants is an exception in its toughness and intolerance,” he said. “No other party that opposes immigration in Europe has been as successful in shaping national policy on all migration-related issues as deeply, or for as long a period of time [as DPP].”

The latest polls suggested the DPP has 18 per cent support, maintaining its position as the second-largest party in the country.

With elections just a few months away, it is neck-and-neck with the Liberal Party.