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Denmark: UNHCR seeks clarification on proposed asylum law

Briefing Notes, 22 January 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Kris Janowski to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 22 January 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

We have been receiving a lot of inquiries about Denmark over the past few days. UNHCR is closely following developments in Denmark, where a wide-ranging list of government proposals, entitled "A New Policy on Foreigners", was made public last week. UNHCR is seeking an early opportunity to receive clarifications on a number of the proposals.

Among those of concern to UNHCR, we would highlight at this point: those which affect family reunification; the definition of who is entitled to protection in the country; the welfare benefits issue; and the issue of returning persons to countries declared to be "safe."

UNHCR's main concern is to see the asylum option remain a real one in other words, accessible to refugees and within acceptable parameters that is consistent with Denmark's long tradition of humanitarian concern for a particularly vulnerable group of people.

UNHCR hopes to continue to be able to look to Denmark as a country that leads by example, particularly within the context of the sensitive EU asylum harmonisation process due to be concluded in 2004. Denmark will be holding the EU Presidency during the second half of 2002, when negotiations on various extremely important EU Draft Directives on asylum will continue. It is with all this in mind that UNHCR is seeking early discussions with the authorities on the implications of the new proposals for refugee protection.

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Jihan's Story

Like millions, 34-year-old Jihan was willing to risk everything in order to escape war-torn Syria and find safety for her family. Unlike most, she is blind.

Nine months ago, she fled Damascus with her husband, Ashraf, 35, who is also losing his sight. Together with their two sons, they made their way to Turkey, boarding a boat with 40 others and setting out on the Mediterranean Sea. They hoped the journey would take eight hours. There was no guarantee they would make it alive.

After a treacherous voyage that lasted 45 hours, the family finally arrived at a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, called Milos - miles off course. Without support or assistance, they had to find their own way to Athens.

The police detained them for four days upon their arrival. They were cautioned to stay out of Athens, as well as three other Greek cities, leaving them stranded.

By now destitute and exhausted, the family were forced to split up - with Ashraf continuing the journey northwards in search of asylum and Jihan taking their two sons to Lavrion, an informal settlement about an hour's drive from the Greek capital.

Today, Jihan can only wait to be reunited with her husband, who has since been granted asylum in Denmark. The single room she shares with her two sons, Ahmed, 5, and Mohammad, 7, is tiny, and she worries about their education. Without an urgent, highly complex corneal transplant, her left eye will close forever.

"We came here for a better life and to find people who might better understand our situation," she says, sadly. "I am so upset when I see how little they do [understand]."

Jihan's Story