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African Union condemns “in the strongest terms possible” Denmark’s plans to send asylum seekers abroad for processing


55-country body criticises European attempts to shift asylum burden to developing countries

Date of Publication:
03 August 2021

In a noteworthy statement released yesterday, the African Union has condemned in the strongest terms possible Denmark's recent passing of a law to allow asylum seekers to be sent abroad for their applications to be processed.

AU logoImage credit: WikipediaWhile the African Union's statement is solely concerned with Denmark, it will also have implications for the UK. The Government's new Nationality and Borders Bill proposes similar legislation to allow asylum seekers to be removed from the UK to a third country whilst their asylum claim is pending.

It has been reported by several media sources (e.g., The Times in June) that the UK has been holding talks with Denmark over setting up a shared overseas centre for processing asylum seekers, with some speculation that the centre could be located in Rwanda.

As we reported on EIN last month, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has spoken out strongly against the UK and Denmark's "neo-colonial" plans to send asylum seekers to Africa for processing. The UNHCR's Gillian Triggs noted, however, that it was not expected that the plans would be able to be implemented given the difficulty finding countries willing to be partners.

Yesterday's African Union statement condemns European attempts to externalise asylum obligations in no uncertain terms. It presents another obstacle to Denmark and the UK being able to realise their reported plans.

The statement said: "The African Union condemns in the strongest terms possible, Denmark's Aliens Act, which was passed recently and which provides for Denmark to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside the European Union while their cases are being processed. This law effectively externalizes and exports the asylum process beyond the borders of Denmark. Denmark has decided to send applications for international protection outside its borders; which amounts to responsibility and burden shifting.

"The African Union views this law with the gravest of concerns and wishes to remind Denmark of its responsibility towards international protection for persons in need of that protection as provided for in the 1951 UN Convention on refugees, to which Denmark is a state party."

It continues: "In addition, the African Union notes with great concern attempts and proposals to establish similar arrangements in Africa through bilateral arrangements, which is worrying and unacceptable. The African Union perceives such attempts as an extension of the borders of such countries and an extension of their control to the African shores."

Such attempts are "xenophobic and completely unacceptable," the African Union said.

The African Union added that the Danish legislation would allow the country to abdicate its international responsibility to provide asylum and protection to those that enter its territory. It said laws such as Denmark's Aliens Act would distort the international asylum system and allow wealthy, developed countries that only host 15% of the world's refugees, to shift their responsibilities to developing countries who already host 85% of refugees.

"We call on all State Parties to the 1951 UN Convention to remain true and faithful to their commitment and obligations to the international asylum system and encourage them to protect the asylum space and stop intolerance and shunning of responsibility especially over migrants and asylum seekers from outside Europe," the African Union stated.