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UNHCR comments on Denmark's draft bill on foreigners

News Stories, 11 April 2002

GENEVA, April 11 (UNHCR) The Danish government this week published a translation of the UN refugee agency's detailed comments on a draft bill on foreigners that is currently being examined by the Danish parliament.

The comments were the product of a series of discussions that have taken place between senior UNHCR and Danish government officials since the publication in January of the government's policy proposal on foreigners, and subsequently of the Draft Bill on amending the Aliens Act, the Marriage Act and other Acts.

UNHCR said Tuesday that, despite good cooperation between its international law experts and government representatives during their lengthy consultations in Copenhagen and Geneva, the agency remained very concerned that certain aspects of the bill and accompanying commentary appear to be "inconsistent with international refugee and human rights law."

In its 10-page appraisal of the draft law, UNHCR said that during its earlier consultations with the government, it had received verbal clarifications about some of the more worrying elements of the bill. However, those clarifications are for the most part still not explicit in the text, which in places remains vague or ambiguous.

In addition, UNHCR said it continues to be concerned about the tone of the current policy-making process and political debate in Denmark, which seem to take the reduction of numbers as their main starting point, rather than the protection of refugees. According to UNHCR statistics, Denmark has received an average of 8,400 asylum-seekers per year over the past decade, rising to an average of 12,300 a year over the past three years. UNHCR officials said that, relatively speaking, these numbers are not so high, particularly when measured against the needs of the millions of refugees around the world.

Denmark will take over the Presidency of the EU in July, and will therefore play an important role in negotiations on various elements of EU asylum legislation. UNHCR officials said in interviews with Danish media that it would be regrettable if, in adopting some of the provisions contained in the draft bill, Denmark was to pre-empt ongoing discussions at the EU level.

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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