New government, same immigration practices

New government continues policies that got predecessor into trouble with human rights organisations

Phatteera, a seven-year-old girl from Herning, was on the verge of being deported to Thailand last week when incredulous citizens, a lawyer, and a local politician stepped in at the eleventh hour and convinced the Justice Ministry to review her case.

To anyone following Danish family reunification cases over the past couple of years, the fact that the government planned to forcibly separate a seven-year-old from her mother, sister and step-father and send her halfway across the world, where she has no-one to care for her, was not shocking.

No, the shocking part was that it was the new, left-of-centre government that was doing it.

When the Socialdemokraterne-Radikale-Socialistisk Folkeparti (SRSF) coalition assumed power in early October, they promised a clean break from the inflexible immigration policies of their predecessors, the Venstre-Konservative (VK) government and its right-wing ally, Dansk Folkeparti (DF). DF is generally credited with authoring DenmarkÂ’s existing immigration rules, although VK did the implementing.

However, three months on, recent immigration rulings under SRSF look much the same as they did under VK. In addition to continuing to deport children, it now also appears that S and SF (but not R) are ready to keep in place an unlawful policy pursued by the previous government that creates citizenship hurdles for stateless youth.

In 2009, in direct violation of UN convention, the Immigration Service denied citizenship to hundreds of eligible stateless youth born to refugees in Denmark. After the scandal broke, VenstreÂ’s immigration minister was fired, and VK promised to grant all of the youth citizenship.

One of those youth, however, is still being denied his citizenship. The domestic intelligence agency PET alleges that he is a threat to national security, even though he has not been charged or convicted of a serious crime. Nor will PET divulge – even to the politicians – how or why he is a threat.

Nevertheless S and SF – along with V, K and DF – agreed to withhold his citizenship so long as the government is deciding how to handle his particular case. That’s unlawful, according to human rights experts.

UN convention “declares unequivocally that a stateless person born in Denmark cannot be denied citizenship if that person is in PET’s spotlight but has not been convicted of a crime against the state”, Eva Ersbøll, a leading expert from the Institut for Menneskerettigheder, told Information newspaper.

Ersbøll added that Denmark under SRSF – as under VK – was once again violating international human rights law by failing to award him citizenship and by treating his case as an exception.

Another area in which the new government has continued the previous governmentÂ’s immigration policies concerns the cases of 75 immigrant children denied re-entry after spending extended periods of time in their home countries.

The issue came about after the European Court of Human Rights ruled last summer that Denmark, in 2005, infringed on the human rights of Sahro Osman, a young Somali woman raised in Denmark.

In 2003, when she was 13, OsmanÂ’s family sent her to Somalia to get to know her relatives and learn their customs. But when Osman was ready to return to Denmark two years later, immigration authorities refused to let her come back, on the grounds that she was no longer able to be integrated into Danish society.

The case went to the European Court of Human Rights, which ruled that the Immigration Service had infringed on OsmanÂ’s human rights. The state was forced to pay her 150,000 kroner in compensation and reinstate her residency.

After the verdict, S, R, SF and Enhedslisten (EL), which were then the opposition, all demanded that VK reopen similar cases; the Immigration Service under then-immigration minister Søren Pind (V) identified 75 similar ones, but Pind argued that it was unfeasible to reopen them.

The new justice minister, Morten Bødskov (S), however suggested this week that reopening the cases was a Pandora’s Box, while SF’s civil rights spokesperson, Anne Baastrup, added that the government did not dare open them “because of the risk that there are many more cases where wrong judgments were made”.

Of the original critics, only EL – which is not part of the government, but on whose support SRSF depends – is still demanding that the cases be reopened.

SRSF, along with EL and the right-of-centre opposition party Liberal Alliance (LA), have agreed to soften the immigration rules – particularly the ones regarding family reunification for children like Phatteera and Osman, as well as eight-year-old Ripa and 13-year-old Sirapat, whose situations The Copenhagen Post has also reported on. These are rules the international courts and human rights organisations have deemed problematic, but exactly how the government intends to change them remains unclear.

From a legal standpoint, the easiest thing would be to roll Denmark’s immigration laws back to where they were in 2004. Instead, however, it looks as though the coalition only plans to change aspects of the current rules – a much more complicated legal task, according to immigration lawyer Åge Kramp, who represents Phatteera and Ripa.

“That’s probably based on the fact that S and SF need to understand what went wrong in 2004 – and also not admit that it was a complete mistake,” Kramp told The Copenhagen Post, referring to the fact that S and SF voted with VK and DF for some of the most problematic rules. Only R, EL and LA have advocated strongly all along for softening the immigration rules.

Together, the parties have a safe majority to pass a new immigration bill – assuming they can agree on its details – but SRSF say the earliest changes will come into effect is March, 2012.
Kramp questioned why the government did not put family reunification cases involving children on hold in the meantime.

“From my point of view, that’s the big issue. Two cases have been judged unlawful by the European Court of Human Rights. Therefore, it would be natural to say that, until they investigate the rules, all the children’s cases should be put on hold,” he said.

“This is bigger than just the Immigration Service,” Kramp added. “When the European Court of Human Rights judges Denmark, it’s judging our entire court system, including the Supreme Court. It’s very serious.”

Phatteera’s case – as well as those of Ripa and Sirapat – is currently under review by the Justice Ministry. Phatteera and Ripa have been allowed to stay in Denmark until their appeals are decided. Sirapat was deported to Thailand in March.