The rights of children are continuously violated by the Immigration Service, according to the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Nils MuiÂžnieks, who strongly criticised Danish laws that force the separation of families and hold children for years in asylum centres.
The case of seven-year-old Im Nielsen, who was deported to Thailand after her Danish stepfather died of cancer, focused attention on the seeming cruelty of the immigration statutes. Although Im and her mother were ultimately allowed to return, her case was only the tip of a very ugly iceberg, according to MuiÂžnieks, who was in Denmark to prepare a report on children’s rights.
“In many areas it seems that the interests of the child take a beat seat to the Immigration Service,” MuiÂžnieks told Berlingske newspaper. “How is it in the best interests of children that they are left in asylum centres? And then there are the family reunification laws.”
Although he acknowledged that the laws had softened recently, he said there remained many questions about their fairness and implementation. He singled out the age limit the law sets to decide whether a child can be successfully integrated into Danish society.
“Eight years old is very young,” he said. “In my opinion, every nine-year-old, ten-year-old or 15-year-old has the potential to be integrated. It is a matter of opportunity and support.”
Complete overhaul of the law needed
MuiÂžnieks said that he would like to see as much attention paid to the children who are stuck in the asylum system as was given to high profile media cases like Im’s. He said that would require a comprehensive review of all immigration legislation, rather than passing case-based special laws like the one that allowed Im and her mother back into the country.
Inger Neufeld, an advisor at Save the Children, agreed with MuiÂžniek.
“The Commissioner is absolutely right. Children under 18 are still children and should be treated equally,” she told Berlingske. "Although things are getting better, there is still no consistent protection for the rights of children built into immigration laws.”
Neufield called it “embarrassing” that Denmark was under constant criticism by the international community for its handling of children in immigration cases.
Morten Bødskov (S), the justice minister, met with MuiÂžniek while he was in Denmark and said that the government is working to make improvements in relation to both asylum and family reunification.
"We have put the child significantly more in the centre than in the past, and we have made it easier for children to receive family reunification,” Bødskov told Berlingske.
Bødskov still refuses to bring the entire Alien Act up for review, saying instead that it is enough that Denmark complies with all international obligations.
In a press release, MuiÂžniek also expressed concern about "the excessive use of coercion in Danish psychiatric institutions, including forced treatment, forced medication and the use of physical restraints, sometimes for several days".