Denmark: Call to Reject Bill Increasing Refugees’ Vulnerability

Denmark, Migration and Asylum, Open Letter, Syria, Violence against Women, Women’s rights and gender justice

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To: First Speakers on Immigration Karsten Lauritzen (Liberal Party), Troels Ravn (the Social Democrats), Martin Henriksen (Danish Peoples Party), Marlene Borst Hansen (the Social Liberal Party), Pernille Skipper (Red-Green Alliance), Karina Lorentzen Dehnhardt (Socialist Party), Simon Emil Ammitzbøll (Liberal Alliance)

To: Members of the Danish Parliament

To: Danish Minister of Justice, Mette Frederiksen

Excellences,

On 19 December 2014, the Danish Parliament conducted its second reading of a new amendment to the Danish Aliens Act (L 72) aimed to limit asylum status granted to refugees; an amendment which would mainly impact refugees from Syria. Ahead of the third reading of the bill before Danish Parliament on 3 February 2015, our organisations call on all Members of Parliament to reject the bill.

This draft comes against a backdrop of increasing efforts of the Danish government and several political parties to limit access to refugee status in the country. This has been recently illustrated by the publication of a highly controversial report on Eritrea speculating the possibility of returning Eritreans in the near future, in spite of the indiscriminate violence and human rights violations plaguing this country.

According to the draft law L72, refugees fleeing generalised violence and persecution, as opposed to individual persecution, would be granted temporary protection for one year, and not refugee status. Families of refugees granted this temporary protection status would be allowed to apply for family reunification only after eight months – except in cases were the refugee has been taking care of a handicapped spouse or has left behind seriously ill minor children in the country of origin.

The officially stated objective of the law is to limit the “strain on the welfare system” and support Danish municipalities facing increasing challenges of receiving and integrating large numbers of refugees. However, given the seriousness of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the neighboring countries, this argument raises a number of serious concerns.

If adopted, this law would result in spouses and children being left behind to face indiscriminate violence in Syria for at least eight months before they can apply for family reunification. In a context where single males make up the bulk of refugees from Syria seeking protection in Denmark, the current proposal would contribute to additional exposure of female spouses and young girls to gender specific violence, such as rape, destitution and social exclusion, as relentlessly stressed by our organisations since the outbreak of the conflict.[1] This would also affect women and girls from Syria who have sought refuge in camps or urban areas in the neighbouring countries, where lone women are particularly vulnerable, as the Danish Institute for Human Rights and the Danish Refugee Council have warned.

Furthermore, this law would not only be morally problematic, but would also contravene Denmark’s international obligations, including the rights to family and private life (article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights), as well as the principle of the best interest of the child (International Convention on the Right of the Child).

As already acknowledged in December in Danish media, by the leader of the Danish Social Liberal Party, a government minister, the war in Syria is likely to continue for the coming years. Moreover, in its conclusions on Syria adopted on 15 December 2014, the European Council stressed and condemned “the continued widespread and systematic violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law perpetrated in Syria”. In this context, the current law is an incoherent move, given the scope of the crisis.

Although our organisations acknowledge the challenges posed by the continuous refugee crisis, including for Denmark, this should in no way serve as pretext to deny a group of people their right to family life and protection. Nor should it justify the adoption of measures which will eventually expose those left behind facing violence, including gender-specific violence, as a result of being separated from their family member.

Instead, the Danish government and political parties must examine, together with their European partners, non-discriminatory reception mechanisms for refugees in Europe. This is the only responsible way to address the unprecedented humanitarian challenge affecting Syria and its neighbours and to live up to Denmark’s international obligations.

Denmark has taken a leading role in addressing violence against women. By opposing this law, the Danish Parliament would send a strong message about Denmark’s commitment to its Action Plan for UN resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which includes the commitments to “ensure that women’s and girls’ special needs before, during, and following an armed conflict is recognized to a greater extent” and “protect girls and women against violence, including gender-related violence, such as rape and sexual abuse, and end impunity for gender-related crimes”.

Signatory organisations:

Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network

Dignity – Danish Institute against Torture

The Women’s Council in Denmark

GAME

Plan Denmark

European Association for the Defense of Human Rights – AEDH

International Federation for Human Rights – FIDH

[1] http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/06/24/submission-second-periodic-report-syria-united-nations-committee-elimination-discrim

https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/articles/middle-east/15727-detention-of-syrian-women-a-weapon-of-social-destruction
https://www.euromedrights.org/eng/2014/06/20/emhrn-position-on-refugees-from-syria/