UNHCR regrets the adoption of new amendments to the Danish Immigration Act

Briefing Notes, 5 May 2006

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 May 2006, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR regrets the adoption on Tuesday of new amendments to the Danish Immigration Act, which are not fully in line with the UN Refugee Convention. We have earlier submitted comments on the draft legislation.

Under the Refugee Convention, there are clear restrictions on the expulsion of refugees, given the very serious consequences that they could face. We are therefore concerned that the new Danish legislation allows for expulsion for lesser, albeit serious, offences, such as tax evasion and vandalism.

Likewise, we are worried that according to the new Danish legislation, the decision to expel a refugee also entails that he or she loses his or her refugee status, putting the person in a legal limbo.

Last year, Denmark received 2,260 asylum applications, primarily from Serbia and Montenegro (including Kosovo), Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, and the Russian Federation, (including Chechens). In the last five years, 28,670 applications were submitted.

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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