Ombudsman censures Immigration Ministry twice in one week

Former Immigration Ministry and Immigration Service under fire for withholding information and illegal acts

The parliamentary ombudsman Hans Gammeltoft-Hansen has criticised the former Immigration Ministry for suppressing information in connection with the stateless citizenship scandal earlier this year. It was the second time in one week that the ombudsman censured the Immigration Ministry and its administrative arm, the Immigration Service.

Gammeltoft-Hansen announced on Monday that the Immigration Ministry under the previous Liberal-Conservative government obstructed freedom of information by delaying for more than two months the disclosure of facts requested by Jyllands-Posten newspaper.

In January 2011, it was learned that the Immigration Ministry had been illegally rejecting the citizenship applications of stateless youths born in Denmark, in clear violation of UN convention, from 2002-2010, or throughout the tenure of the previous government. The immigration minister at the time, Birthe Rønn Hornbech, said in a press conference that precedents for such illegal rejections could be found from 1999-2000 under the earlier Social Dem-led government, and that three such cases occurred on the Social Dems’ watch.
But when Jyllands-Posten asked her to furnish information about the dates of those three cases, Hornbech refused. Citing freedom of information, Jyllands-Posten pressed for facts, but the Immigration Ministry took more than two months to provide it. By the time the information was turned over to the journalists, Hornbech had been fired for her role in the scandal and the case was no longer on the front pages.

Furthermore, when the information was finally delivered, it was revealed that the three cases were also under the Liberal-Conservative governmentÂ’s tenure, and not the Social Dems’, as Hornbech had claimed in the press conference.

Gammeltoft-Hansen charged on Monday that Hornbech and the Immigration Ministry knew precisely when the three cases were rejected, but withheld the facts from the press and public. The ombudsman also claimed that ministries past and present have a responsibility to provide information “somewhat faster” so the public can be informed while cases are still current.

On Friday last week Gammeltoft-Hansen also criticised the former Immigration Service for failing to fulfill its legal obligations to unaccompanied child refugees. The Immigration Service was the public access point for the Immigration Ministry until both were closed by the new government earlier this month.

Gammeltoft-Hansen censured the Immigration Service for failing to help a 16-year-old Iraqi boy, who came to Denmark in 2008 as an unaccompanied child refugee, in finding his relatives. The Immigration Service told the boy he would have to find them himself, or with the help of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

“Immigration law is very precise on this point,” Gammeltoft-Hansen wrote in a statement. “Children who arrive in Denmark alone must have help finding their families and it must happen as soon as possible after their arrival.”

The Immigration Service argued that it believed, at the time, that it was sufficient to refer child refugees to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Following Gammeltoft-HansenÂ’s complaint, the former Immigration Service administrators acknowledged that they were at fault.

Earlier this month the new Social Democrat-led government dissolved the Immigration Ministry and the Immigration Service, which were both established by the Liberal-Conservative government in 2001.

The Immigration Ministry and former prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen are currently under independent investigation for the stateless youth scandal.

The parliamentary ombudsman is politically neutral and is not associated with either government. His role is to supervise the behaviour of public authorities and initiate disciplinary procedures if necessary. Gammeltoft-Hansen has been the parliamentary ombudsman since 1987, through four different governments.