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AU condemns Denmark attempt to shift refugee problems to Africa

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AU condemns Denmark attempt to shift refugee problems to Africa

Asylum seekers on a dusty road.

The African Union has roundly condemned Denmark’s Aliens Law, which seeks to send asylum seekers to third countries – believed to be in Africa – in an attempt to shift its responsibilities to a continent already burdened with caring for 85% of the world’s refugee population.

The African Union (AU) has joined other international bodies in condemning Denmark’s new law to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside the European Union (EU) while their cases are processed. It is believed that the United Kingdom is also seriously considering this approach to shift refugee issues to ‘third countries’ perhaps in Africa.

The law, passed in Denmark in June but with wider implications is causing considerable worries among organisations helping African asylum seekers to find safe havens abroad.

In a strongly worded statement issued in early August, the AU said: “The African Union condemns in the strongest terms possible, Denmark’s Aliens Act, which was passed recently and which provides for Denmark to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside the European Union while their cases are being processed.

“This law effectively externalizes and exports the asylum process beyond the borders of Denmark. Denmark has decided to send applications for international protection outside its borders; which amounts to responsibility and burden shifting.

“The African Union views this law with the gravest of concerns and wishes to remind Denmark of its responsibility towards international protection for persons in need of that protection as provided for in the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, to which Denmark is a state party.”

The statement adds that Africa has a “lot to show the world as it continues to generously shoulder the burden of the world’s 85% of the refugees, often in protracted situations whereas only 15% are hosted by developed countries.”

Completely unacceptable

It continues: “In addition, the African Union notes with great concern attempts and proposals to establish similar arrangements in Africa through bilateral arrangements, which is worrying and unacceptable. The African Union perceives such attempts as an extension of the borders of such countries and an extension of their control to the African shores.”

The AU describes such moves as “xenophobic and completely unacceptable.”

The AU said the law would allow Denmark to abdicate its international responsibility to provide asylum and protection to those that enter its territory and that the law would distort international asylum system and pave the way for wealthy, developed countries that only host 15% of the world’s refugees to shift their responsibilities to developing countries who already host 85% of refugees while struggling with other challenges.

“Such a practise,” the statement says, “would not support the principle of equitable burden and responsibility sharing as envisioned in the Global Compact on Refugees.”

“We call on all State Parties to the 1951 UN Convention to remain true and faithful to their commitment and obligations to the international asylum system and encourage them to protect the asylum space and stop intolerance and shunning of responsibility especially over migrants and asylum seekers from outside Europe,” the AU statement concluded.

Denmark’s Aliens Act has also been condemned by the EU. EU spokesperson Adalbert Jahnz said implementing the law “is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the new pact for migration and asylum.”

The UN Refugee Agency has also condemned the law. Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for Refugees said: “UNHCR strongly opposes efforts that seek to externalise or outsource asylum and international protection obligations to other countries.” 

Meanwhile, the country’s centre-left Social Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, is also coming under increasing international condemnation for its policy to repatriate asylum seekers from Syria back to the war-torn country. There have been huge and sustained public demonstrations against the move, which often seeks to separate families.

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