Four Afghan asylum seekers – three teenage girls and a woman – attempted to commit suicide yesterday in two Red Cross-operated asylum centres. The apparently co-ordinated suicide attempts, which reportedly occurred at the Auderød and Vipperød asylum centres, were unprecedented according to the Red Cross.
“We have never experienced anything like this before,” Svend Erik Brande, head of healthcare at the Red Cross’s asylum department, told Politiken newspaper.
He added that there had been only two suicides in the past 11 years, the last in 2010.
Asylum seekers often suffer psychologically due to the long periods of time spent living in asylum centres, while waiting for their requests to be reviewed.
The attempted suicides came despite the Red Cross having programs to identify at-risk individuals in asylum centres, and recently passed law aimed at reducing the psychological burden of the asylum system.
Currently, asylum seekers are not permitted to work. However, as of January those that co-operate with immigration authorities seeking to repatriate them will be allowed to live and work outside asylum centres six months after arriving in Denmark.
Denmark’s asylum system is currently being stretched, due to legal rulings that prevent the government from forcedly repatriating failed asylum seekers to countries where their lives may be at risk, such as Somalia, Syria and Afghanistan.
With almost 1,400 failed asylum seekers waiting to be returned to their home countries, the bill for the asylum system has sky-rocketed from 370 million kroner a year in 2008, to around one billion kroner a year.
The increasing numbers of asylum seekers led the government to announce the need to build more asylum centres across the country and attempt to find new ways to speed up the asylum application process.
The government’s recent asylum reform raised an additinal 15 million kroner to employ more caseworkers, to halve the length of time applications take to be processed.
Denmark has also entered into negotiations with four other European countries about the possibility of establishing a reception centre in Afghanistan were unaccompanied teenage asylum seekers, whose families cannot be located, can be returned to.
This plan has faced stiff resistance from human rights advocates, who argue that sending children back to countries such as Afghanistan, violates UN conventions on the rights of refugees and children, that the government has signed.
Among the critics of the plan is the former EU human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg.
“The risk that the young people would be worse off in a centre in Kabul than in Denmark is obvious,” Hammarberg told Politiken. “I have spoken to a large number of these Afghani minors in Turkey, Greece, and France and they are not just looking for better opportunities. They have fled very serious threats that will still be there when they are placed in a reception centre in Kabul.”
According to Politiken, returned asylum seekers who return to Afghanistan are often targeted by the Taleban, who punish those that make contact with the West. Young people without families are also targeted by militants who force them to become suicide bombers.
There are currently 24 Afghan minors who risk being returned after their requests for asylum were turned down.
The justice minister, Morten Bødskov, will meet with parliament’s Immigration Committee today to address the criticism of the plan to open the Afghan reception centre.
Though current EU human rights commissioner, Nils MuiÂžnieks, agreed with Bødskov’s statement this January that it was in the best interests of underage asylum seekers to be reunited with their families in their home countries, he admitted there were still a lot of risk involved.
“There are definitely circumstances where it would be best for the child to be sent home if there is a family to care for them,” MuiÂžnieks told Politiken. “[But] the security in war-torn countries is very fragile and cannot be fully guaranteed.”