Danish parliament tightens immigration and asylum rules

Saturday, June 1, 2002

COPENHAGEN, Denmark -- Parliament voted Friday to adopt a law to tightened Denmark's immigration and asylum rules, making it harder for foreigners to seek asylum, get residence permits and welfare benefits.

The legislation, which has been criticized abroad for being too harsh, was presented earlier this year by the Liberal-Conservative minority government. The center-right coalition took office in November on promises to protect the prosperous nation's cradle-to-grave welfare system from being exploited by outsiders.

Parliamentary support from the anti-immigration, populist Danish People's Party ensured the passage of the law, which was to take effect on July 1.

The vote came a day after Britain announced a change in immigration rules so that failed refugee claimants can be quickly deported before being given the chance to appeal. The change, which must be approved by Parliament, also would restrict appeals for those denied asylum, increase penalties for human trafficking and allow the deportation of children born in Britain to parents who entered the country illegally.

On Thursday, European Union interior ministers met in Rome and backed the idea of creating a European border police force to operate at airports and harbors by 2007 at the latest. A final decision could be made next month.

Danish lawmakers voted 59-48 in favor of the law after a three-hour debate. Seventy parliamentarians were absent and two abstained.

"We have carried out the tightening that obviously have become necessary," Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

'The weakest people'

Facing a swing to the right in several European countries, the measure has drawn unwelcome concern from the United Nations' refugee agency and fellow European Union countries Sweden, Belgium and France as Denmark prepares to take over the rotating EU presidency on July 1.

"The government's immigration package will hit the weakest people inside and outside the country," said Elsebeth Gerner Nielsen of the small, center Radical Party. She said the vote would be "an embarrassing day."

Danish leaders have promised to respect all international conventions on refugees and accused critics of not understanding the details of the proposals.

Leftist opposition parties singled out the part of the measure that raises the minimum age to 24 for immigrants to bring in a spouse from outside the EU or Nordic region.

"Our generation has fought hard to get out of forced marriages and to the right to decide whom we want to marry," said Pakistani-born Kamal Qureshi, a 31-year-old legislator with the Socialist People's Party.

Under the proposal, Denmark will only accept refugees as defined by the Geneva Convention, meaning those who have been or fear being persecuted for their race, religion or political beliefs.

The refugees will get permanent residence permits after seven years, instead of the present three, and will have to wait until then to get benefits. They will be returned to their native countries if the political situation stabilizes and any refugee who goes home on holiday will have his or her case re-evaluated.

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