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Speaking points by Danish Ministers addressing members of the European Parliament 25 January 2016

26.01.2016  11:51

Unofficial translation – check against delivery

[Introduction]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs:

  • Madam Chair, thank you for the invitation to address the Committee. I look very much forward to presenting the Danish Government’s initiatives on migration and refugees together with my colleague, the Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing.
  • In recent years, the European Parliament has become an important forum for European public debate and dialogue. We are therefore pleased to be here today. This provides us with an opportunity to explain the policy of the Danish Government on asylum and to hear the points of view of the Honourable Members of this Parliament. We will of course be more than pleased to answer your questions in this regard.
  • To the Danish Government, it is important to avoid any misunderstanding of our initiatives. Consequently, we would like to continue the presentation in Danish in order to give a detailed and precise account of our new proposals.

[The migration challenge facing Europe]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs

  • Allow me by way of introduction to say a few words about the significant challenges facing Europe in the field of asylum and immigration. 
  • In recent years, the world has experienced a historic number of wars, conflicts and crises. This applies not least to our neighbouring regions where we have witnessed violent conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. 
  • At the same time, many countries close to Europe have experienced economic crisis and disappointing economic development. This has led a great number of people – especially many young people – to look for better opportunities.
  • As a consequence of this, about one and a half million people crossed the external borders of the EU illegally in the course of 2015. The European Commission estimates that another one and a half million people will arrive in Europe in 2016. It is very large number of people.
  • Therefore, Europe is facing a very difficult situation, which puts significant pressure on our countries. We all know the challenges we have experienced at both our external and our internal borders with large groups of refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe. We have witnessed scenes of large groups of refugees and migrants gathered in major railway stations and walking on motorways – scenes no-one would have imagined just a few years ago. 
  • Let me make it absolutely clear – we are facing a situation that requires common European solutions. Without common European solutions, we cannot solve the refugee and migrant crisis. Unfortunately, these solutions are neither simple nor easy to find. Europe must stand together. And I am confident that you, Honourable Members of the European Parliament, will play an important and constructive role in this respect.

[The Danish government’s migration policy]

The Minister for Foreign Affairs:

  • Solutions at European level cannot stand alone. Each of us in our own countries has a great responsibility for handling this situation in a decent, stable and effective manner. Denmark also has this responsibility, and it is a task the Danish Government takes very seriously.
  • Denmark is one of only five countries in the world to meet the target set by the UN to devote at least 0.7 per cent of GNI to development assistance. For many years, we have provided assistance to alleviate emergency humanitarian crises. We have also funded projects ensuring long-term development in the countries neighbouring the European Union. This assistance includes help to refugees, internally displaced persons and the neighbouring countries affected by the refugee crises. 
  • In addition, in light of the current situation, the Danish Government decided in September 2015 to contribute EUR 100 million to joint European initiatives addressing the migration crisis. 
  • Denmark has participated actively in the work up to and following the Valletta Summit with a view to finding solutions in a European context and between the EU and the African countries.
  • My hope is, therefore, that no-one will call into question Denmark’s wish to contribute to joint international solutions to the complex challenges facing us all.
  • And now, Honourable Members, I wish to give the floor to my colleague, who will present the Danish Government’s initiatives in the asylum area.

[The special challenge facing the Nordic welfare model]

The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing:

  • Thank you, Madam Chair.
  • I would first like to thank you and the Honourable Members of the Committee for the invitation to address the Committee today.
  • I have been looking forward to being here today and to providing you with a more detailed account of some of the initiatives of the Danish Government on asylum and migration. I hope I can clarify matters and provide you with a more precise understanding of the policy choices of the Danish Government.
  • As mentioned by my colleague, it is important to avoid any misunderstanding of our initiatives. Consequently, I will do my presentation in Danish.
  • As already mentioned, I wish to use today’s meeting in particular to explain and go into detail on two specific proposals presented by the Danish Government. They are two proposals that have given rise to considerable interest and have attracted international attention. It is first and foremost the proposal to seize asylum seekers’ assets. But the proposal to postpone the right to family reunification has also attracted attention.  
  • However, I wish to begin by saying a few words about Denmark’s contribution to solving the common challenges. In this connection, I also wish to say a few words about the way in which we receive asylum seekers in Denmark. 
  • First of all, I wish to underline that Denmark, in my opinion, makes a significant contribution to solving the current challenges in the field of asylum and immigration.
  • Denmark received a total of 21,300 asylum seekers in 2015. This makes Denmark is one of the ten Member States in the EU receiving most asylum seekers per capita. This was also the case in 2014 when we received close to 15,000 asylum seekers, and it will also be the case in 2016 when we expect up to 25,000 asylum seekers. That is at any rate the assumption our budget for 2016 is based on.
  • It will be evident that Denmark receives a large number of asylum seekers. This is the case when we look at absolute numbers and also when we measure per capita.
  • Furthermore, we are also one of the countries spending most on development and humanitarian assistance.
  • In other words, Denmark is shouldering its fair share of the joint responsibility.
  • The second point I wish to draw attention to is that the Danish welfare state – like the other Nordic countries – provides free access to welfare services for the country’s citizens and foreign residents. These welfare services include, for example, free health care, free education from elementary school to university and unemployment benefits.   
  • We ensure that foreigners who come to Denmark as asylum seekers are treated properly. We ensure that they meet with a fair reception. We ensure that they are treated with respect and that they receive adequate assistance during their stay as asylum seekers. 
  • We also ensure that asylum seekers who obtain a residence permit in Denmark receive support to achieve successful integration into Danish society. Asylum seekers who are granted residence permit are offered a three-year integration programme to support their integration. The programme takes the form of, for example, language courses and help to enter the labour market. They are offered housing in the local municipality and will receive financial assistance on an ongoing basis. They will also have access to, for example, health care services, school and education on equal terms with everybody else in Denmark.   
  • It is my clear impression that we in Denmark treat asylum seekers and refugees in a decent and fair manner – also when we compare ourselves with schemes in other Member States.
  • When we help asylum seekers and refugees, it is a reflection of a basic principle of our welfare state: That we want to help those who cannot take care of themselves.
  • At the same time, however, it is also a fundamental principle that those who can take care of themselves should do so without receiving public support. I believe this is a fundamental principle not only in Denmark, but no doubt in all Member States.
  • I also wish to underline that this fundamental principle applies both to Danish citizens and to asylum seekers in Denmark.
  • As result of our welfare model, which also supports asylum seekers financially, it has a significant fiscal impact when the number of asylum seekers increases substantially. I have noted that according to a recent study by the IMF, Denmark’s budgetary expenses for asylum seekers measured as a percentage of GDP are the second highest in the whole EU.
  • I am drawing attention to these matters because I believe they are important to bear in mind when we discuss our specific initiatives in the field of asylum and immigration.

[Tightening measures implemented by other countries]

The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing:

  • I also wish to point out that as the number of refugees and migrants increased to unprecedented levels in 2015, I observed that a number of European countries decided to amend their asylum legislation and have proposed changes that are expected to be implemented in the course of 2016. 
  • • As I understand it, a number of countries have tightened their asylum policy – or are in the process of doing so. 
  • It is important to bear in mind that these are changes which the individual countries have implemented out of necessity. Even countries that have been very open to refugees and migrants have decided to change their immigration policies considerably.

[The Danish Government’s initiatives]

The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing:

  • This also applies to Denmark. In light of the economic challenge posed by such a large number of asylum seekers in combination with Denmark’s generous welfare conditions, the Government has found it necessary to present a number of initiatives in the field of asylum and immigration for in order to be able to handle the huge pressure on Denmark.  
  • Some of these initiatives have caused considerable debate – and unfortunately also to a number of misunderstandings. This applies in particular to the bill presented by the Danish Government in December 2015. I therefore wish to thank the Committee for giving me this opportunity to go into detail on some of our initiatives.
  • The bill we are discussing today is expected to be passed by the Danish Folketing (Parliament) tomorrow. In this connection, I wish to mention that there is broad support for the bill in the Danish Folketing and that the political parties supporting the bill, generally speaking, represent the four largest political groupings in the European Parliament.

[The proposal to allow seizure of assets]

The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing

  • Allow me to say a few words about the part of the bill regarding the proposal to allow seizure of asylum seekers’ assets.
  • Asylum seekers coming to Denmark will, as already mentioned, receive the necessary help and support while their asylum applications are considered and also subsequently if they are recognised as refugees in Denmark.  
  • However, if asylum seekers bring with them sufficient means, the asylum seekers themselves must cover the costs of their accommodation.
  • These are the rules in force today, and they will basically be the same in future.
  • Asylum seekers must also today inform the authorities whether they bring with them assets that may cover the costs of their maintenance. 
  • The bill that was submitted to the Danish Folketing on 10 December 2015 provides the Danish authorities with the possibility to search asylum seekers and their luggage with a view to seizing assets that may cover the costs of the asylum seekers’ maintenance during the asylum process.
  • Naturally, this does not imply that the Danish authorities will seize all that asylum seekers bring with them. We want the rules to be fair and we want them to be applied with respect for the individual. 
  • Therefore, the Government has proposed the following: 
  • It is actually quite simple. We wish to apply the same rules to asylum seekers as apply to Danish citizens who have public or private debt - with one major difference: asylum seekers may keep a larger share of their assets compared with Danish citizens.
  • The bill implies that asylum seekers who bring with them amounts of cash will be allowed to keep up DKK 10,000. This corresponds to approx. EUR 1,300 euro. Amounts of cash exceeding this will be seized for the purpose of covering the costs of their accommodation during the asylum process. Similarly, if asylum seekers bring with them other valuables than cash, the persons concerned may keep any item of a value up to DKK 10,000 i.e. approx. EUR 1,300. Items of a higher value will be seized for the purpose of covering the costs of the accommodation of those in question.  
  • From a Danish perspective, I believe that EUR 1,300 – or DKK 10,000 – is a fair limit. I see from articles in international newspapers last week that other countries in Europe have similar rules where the limit is defined as for example EUR 750 and EUR 350. It shows that there are different approaches to this issue. 
  • I wish to make it absolutely clear that items of special personal importance i.e. of sentimental value are completely exempt from seizure. This applies for example to wedding rings and engagement rings.
  • In other words, it is a very unfortunate misunderstanding that Danish authorities will seize such valuables that are of special personal importance to foreigners seeking asylum in Denmark. This is not the case. 
  • I also wish to underline that foreigners who want to challenge a decision to seize certain items may challenge the decision in the Danish courts of law.
  • I am aware that many asylum seekers only bring with them few possessions and small amounts of cash. Naturally, they will be allowed to keep those. But we also believe that it is fair and reasonable that asylum seekers who do bring with them sufficient assets should cover the costs of their accommodation, etc. during the asylum process. 
  • By way of conclusion, I wish to underline that the right of the police to search asylum seekers and their luggage will not be expanded. Today, the police may search the clothes and luggage of an asylum seeker with a view to finding documents that can help establish the identity of the person in question. The bill submitted to the Danish Folketing implies that the police are to use the same procedure when verifying whether an asylum seeker has any assets.

[The proposal to postpone the right to family reunification]

The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing:

  • I would like to say a few words about the proposal to postpone the right to family reunification for foreigners who have been granted temporary protection status.
  • It already follows from current rules that family reunification is in general not granted to a foreigner with temporary protection status whose residence permit has not yet been extended after one year.
  • In Denmark, temporary protection status is granted to asylum seekers who are entitled to protection because the general situation of violence in the home country has reached a level where anybody will be at risk of inhuman treatment in case of return to the country of origin. Among those who have been granted asylum under current rules, only 20 per cent have been granted temporary protection status. 
  • The rules on temporary protection do not apply to refugees who are granted residence permit according to the UN Refugee Convention, or foreigners who – due to individual circumstances – are at risk of inhuman treatment in case of return to the country of origin.
  • And now I would like to turn to the new proposal. 
  • The Government has proposed to further postpone the right to family reunification for foreigners with temporary protection status. This means that in general there will be no right to family reunification for the first three years.
  • However, family reunification will be granted in all cases where Denmark’s international obligations so require. This is also the case under current rules.
  • This means that Danish authorities will perform a specific and individual assessment in each case and, in accordance with Denmark’s international obligations, grant family reunification in all cases where the international obligations specifically so require.
  • Naturally, the Danish Government has made a thorough assessment of all the proposals and finds that there are compelling reasons for arguing that the proposed scheme complies with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

[Conclusion]

The Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing:

  • Madam Chair and Honourable Members of the Committee, by way of conclusion I wish to reiterate: The present situation with large numbers of refugees and migrants coming to our borders is placing significant pressure on Europe. There are no easy solutions or quick fixes.
  • It is necessary that we all take our responsibility – both at European and at national level.
  • It is my hope that our presentation has underlined the Danish Government’s strong commitment to contribute to common solutions. I also hope that our presentation has shed light on our new initiatives, which are part of the comprehensive Danish approach to refugees and migrants.  
  • Madam Chair, I will be pleased to answer any questions that you and the Committee may have and to listen to your points of view.
  • Thank you for your attention.