A deported Thai mother and her daughter will be able to return to Denmark after political parties agreed upon a special law to let them stay in the country.
The pair left the country on Sunday, sparking a media storm after Im, 7, told reporters that she was being forced to leave to Denmark because her dad had died.
At a meeting last night, justice minister Morten Bødskov (S) struck a deal with all parties except Dansk Folkeparti to change the law in such a way that would allow Suthida and Im Nielsen to return to, and remain in, Denmark.
Suthida brought her daughter Im to Denmark as a three-year-old after marrying Danish citizen Johnny Nielsen, who died of cancer last year.
Im only speaks Danish, attends the local school and enjoys a close relationship with the family of her deceased stepfather.
She was deported with her mother on Sunday, however, after the Immigration Service, the immigration appeals council and Hjørring City Court determined that, following the death of Johnny Nielsen, their ties to Thailand were stronger than to Denmark.
New law, new cases
Politicians last night agreed that foreigners who move to Denmark through family reunification, and whose partners die, will now be protected from deportation – the same protection was extended earlier this year to victims of domestic abuse who leave their Danish partners.
But a number of people are now arguing that the law – which will retroactively apply to all cases from the past two years – is hypocritical.
One of them is Mimi Jakobsen, the secretary general of children’s charity Red Barnet, the Danish chapter of Save the Children, who questions how the same politicians who wrote the law can now claim to be outraged by it.
Politicians created the unfair system
“These are the same politicians who tightened the immigration law but then suddenly a sweet little girl comes along and they all turn tail and want to change the law,” Jakobsen told DR Nyheder.
Deportations following the death of a parent are rare, but over a thousand children under age 12 have been denied family reunification with one or both parents in Denmark since 2005.
“The truth is that there are piles of cases in which children are tragically separated from their parents and where the child’s rights and interests as a whole are not taken into consideration, and we are totally opposed to this,” Jakobsen added to Berlingske newspaper.
Violating human rights
According to anti-discrimination organisation DRC, the European Court on Human Rights has twice ruled that Denmark has broken human rights by denying family reunification to children.
“[The immigration authorities] deny family reunification to children, saying its for their own best interests, but international organisations don’t agree,” DRC head Niels-Erik Hansen told Berlingske.
“It should never have gotten so far that we need the European Court of Human Rights to tell us that we don’t protect a child’s interests by denying them family reunification,” he said.
Im and Suthida's case also demonstrates the power of media intervention.
Newspapers have reported a number of cases in which people had their residency and family reunification denials overturned following media scrutiny.
Among them is Mengshi Lin, 19, from China who despite six years in the country, attending upper-secondary school, and speaking fluent Danish, was denied permanent residency in September.
But five hours after a journalist from Information newspaper contacted the Immigration Service with a preliminary article about Lin and some questions, the Immigration Service contacted Lin’s lawyer and told him that both Lin and her brother could stay in the country. Lin had waited 15 months to receive her initial rejection.
Media attention leading the immigration authorities to change their rulings is not limited to children, however. Journalist Ralf Christensen set off a media firestorm last year when he wrote about his wife's family reunification denial. Following the attention their case received, the couple won an appeal earlier this year.
Earlier this month, Jyllands-Posten newspaper profiled Mark Turner, an American who has lived in Denmark for the past eight years who failed to earn permanent residency because he didn’t earn the required 15 points for community service. Jyllands-Posten reported that hours after contacting Immigration Service about Turner's case, he was granted a resident permit.