Authorities reject criticism of detention centre deemed ‘not suitable for people’
Despite a damning report released at the start of the year, the Danish authorities have this week swept aside criticisms and recommendations relating to the Ellebæk detention centre.
The centre houses unsuccessful asylum applicants who do not wish to be sent home. They are kept there out of fear they will evade involuntary repatriation.
One of the worst in Europe
Following a visit in 2019, the Council of Europe’s anti-torture committee released an extensive report in January this year detailing the state of Denmark’s police, prisons, immigrant detention centres and psychiatric institutions.
What they found at the immigration centres, especially in Ellebæk, hit international headlines. Hans Wolff, who led the visits, described his surprise at the “unacceptable” and “appalling” living conditions migrants were kept in – calling them “incompatible with human rights” and describing it as one of the worst centres of its kind in Europe.
Among the issues raised were: outdoor access being limited to just half an hour, two-week solitary confinement for using a mobile phone, and a lack of access to health services.
Perhaps it should have been clear from the outset that the Danish response would be limited in its scope. On reading the report, the justice minister, Nick Hækkerup, asserted that Ellebæk “should not be a nice place to be”, and that such conditions were intended to motivate those unqualified for asylum to leave the country.
Of course, those detained at Ellebæk are not criminals, so to keep them in conditions reported as being significantly worse than prisons is an issue of great concern to the committee.
Following the minister’s strong statement, however, he stated in March that the centre was undergoing some light refurbishment. This included the addition of a small outdoor facility.
Denial and concessions
It is on this ground that the authorities have now rejected the criticisms they initially faced.
In an extended response, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied the claim that inmates were allowed just 30 minutes of fresh air a day. Declaring instead that, before March, each detainee had access to up to an hour outdoors and that the building of the new space since then has meant that outdoor access is now entirely unrestricted.
Only minor issues of under-staffing and poor keeping of medical records were conceded, whilst individual cases of violence and racism were investigated but could not be backed up by any strong evidence.
In January the committee requested a response within three months: the delay and meagreness of the Danish offering is unlikely to have silenced any alarm bells.