Former immigration minister faces scrutiny over ‘stateless’ saga

Commission underway today to determine if Birthe Rønn Hornbech wilfully violated UN conventions

A commission looking into the actions of the former immigration minister, Birthe Rønn Hornbech (Venstre), who persistently rejected the naturalisation applications of stateless youth born in Denmark in violation of UN conventions, got underway today.

In March of 2011, ten young ‘stateless’ Palestinian youth born in Denmark filed charges against the Immigration Ministry and Birthe Rønn Hornbech for rejecting their citizenship applications – applications which should have been automatically approved according to UN conventions.

An investigation revealed that Hornbech and ministry officials were aware of the UN rules, yet Hornbech directed the officials to continue with the inappropriate rejections. The ministry failed to inform more than 400 stateless youth of their rights and rejected the citizenship applications of dozens more.

Hornbech had initially shrugged off criticism of her role in the affair, pointing out that the rejections were made under previous immigration ministers, and that she only became aware of them afterward.

However, anonymous government officials said Hornbech had been made aware of the problem in 2008, revelations which Hornbech later confirmed. Her role in the 'stateless' saga eventually led to her job dismissal by then prime minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen (V).

The commission that began its work today is charged with uncovering if the ministry’s actions were political in nature or merely the result of administrative apathy and carelessness. Hanne Agersnap (Socialistisk Folkeparti), who was SF’s citizenship spokesperson at the time the case broke, said that she believes that Hornbech intentionally hid the issue from other government officials because Venstre had “promised too much” to the right wing Dansk Folkeparti (DF) concerning the international conventions. DF opposes Denmark honouring the UN rules, and even V has suggested the same.

The commission will attempt to clarify whether previous immigration ministers Bertel Haarder (V) and Rikke Hvilshøj (V) were aware of the problem. Former prime ministers Anders Fogh Rasmussen (V) and Lars Løkke Rasmussen (V) are also slated to testify.

Hornbech herself could be on the witness stand in May.

Former justice minister and political commentator Hans Engell said that the case will have no consequences other than further tarnishing Hornbech’s already shabby legacy.

“When the inquiry is complete, the report will be forwarded to the government, which will forward it on to parliament. I imagine that parliament will then issue a sharp reprimand, but I do not think that there will be any legal aftermath,” Engell told Berlingske newspaper.

Eva Ersbøll, from the human rights organisation Institut for Menneskerettigheder called the whole case “weird”.

"I do not think there was any conspiracy, but this must be investigated to find out how things could go so wrong,” Ersbøll told Berlingske.

Søren Krarup, a former DF MP, said that the real scandal is that parliament chose to honour UN conventions above Danish law.

“This commission means nothing,” he said. “It may be damning that a minister and ministry were not aware of a problem, but it is also damning for those of us that believe that the UN conventions have no real significance.”

Krarup said that the entire saga was his fault because he drew attention to the fact that allowing citizenship to stateless citizens that did not meet the Danish citizenship requirements violated the constitution.

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