UNHCR expresses concern over proposed Danish refugee policies

News Stories, 22 January 2002

GENEVA, Jan. 22, (UNHCR) The U.N. refugee agency expressed concern Tuesday about a series of proposals to reduce the number of immigrants allowed into Denmark, and expressed a hope that Copenhagen, which has a fine tradition of caring for refugees, will "continue to lead by example."

The agency said it was still studying the proposals, which appear to set the scene for new legislation, but added that it was worried about their possible effect on family reunifications, welfare benefits for refugees, and the expedited return of asylum seekers to so-called "safe countries."

"We have some reasons to believe that the proposal would limit the possibility of seeking asylum in Denmark," Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman, said at a press briefing in Geneva.

Janowski added that the Danish proposals have particular resonance because Copenhagen will take over the rotating European Union presidency during the second half of 2002 at a time when negotiations on important E.U. directives on asylum will be continuing.

"It is with this in mind that UNHCR is seeking early discussions with the authorities on the implications of the new proposals for refugee protection," Janowski said.

Denmark, which was the first country to sign up to the 1951 UN refugee Convention, has traditionally been one of Europe's strongest supporters of refugees, but last November a Liberal-Conservative coalition won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections on the pledge to significantly reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the country.

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers urged the Danish government earlier this month not to go ahead with proposed cuts to development aid, including funding for UNHCR. Copenhagen is the refugee agency's second biggest per capita contributor behind Norway.

Fewer than five percent of Denmark's 5.3 million people are foreigners, a lower proportion than in most European countries.