Leading Danish politician Morten Messerschmidt has said out-of-touch historical agreements on migration should be torn up and renegotiated, after Denmark drew fire internationally for passing legislation paving the way for processing asylum seekers in a third-party country.
The Danes are planning to send their would-be migrants more than 4,000 miles away to Africa, having signed a memorandum of understanding with Rwanda in April. Talks on processing centres are also ongong with Tunisia, Ethiopia and Egypt.
The government believes the offshoring – mirroring a controversial, albeit successful, operation by Australia in 2013 – will help alleviate its, and Europe’s, migration crisis. More than 20,000 people, mostly from Africa and the Middle East, have died since 2014 while attempting the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea.
Speaking exclusively to RT.com, Messerschmidt, the 40-year-old deputy chairman of the Dansk Folkeparti (Danish People’s Party) in Demark’s Folketing (Parliament), brushed aside criticism from United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, who branded Denmark’s legislation as “counter to the letter and spirit of the 1951 Refugee Convention”, and from European Commission spokesman Adalbert Jahnz, who flatly asserted, “It is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the new pact for migration and asylum.”
The popular Danish MP was unapologetic about his party’s stance. “Our view is that the world has changed dramatically, therefore it makes sense that we should rewrite these conventions,” he explained. “Those agreements were written in an entirely different context in history, at a time where we didn’t have the easy opportunity of moving around from country to country. The conventions are no longer adequate for the situation we’re living in, so we don’t feel that strongly about sticking with them.
“With international mobility so much greater today, more people have the chance to get a better life simply by migrating and that was never, as I understand it, the intention of the Refugee Convention all those years ago, in 1951, when the background was more about the Second World War.”
The decision passed in the Folketing last week by 70 votes to 20, on an initiative from the governing Social Democrats, was the latest in a series of hardline moves on migration to have won public support over the past 12 months.
At the height of Europe’s refugee crisis, in 2015, Denmark received more than 20,000 applications for asylum, but that fell to just 1,515 last year, as stricter rules started to bite.
However, Messerschmidt predicts a dilemma for the ruling party: “Going against those historical agreements is not the Social Democratic position, which I think, at the end of the day, is going to be their biggest difficulty. After all, how much can you actually do about immigration while at the same time acknowledging these conventions as they are being interpreted by organisations like the UN?”
The latest legislation, however, follows no-nonsense laws passed last year to tackle socio-economic deprivation in migrant ghettos in the country and, more recently, the decision to revoke the residency status of more than 200 Syrian refugees on the grounds that Damascus and the surrounding region were now considered safe places to live.
Last week’s vote opens the way for the government to house new asylum seekers in a third-party country while their applications are processed. If successful, they will be sent to Denmark to begin their new lives. If not, they will be returned home.
Currently, Rwanda looks to be the most likely partner in Denmark’s outsourcing scheme, with officials having visited the African nation in April, when they signed an agreement to enhance cooperation on migration and asylum.
Amnesty International intervened to warn that “any attempt to transfer asylum seekers arriving in Denmark to Rwanda for their asylum claims to be processed would be not only unconscionable, but potentially unlawful”, but the Danes are not proposing anything that hasn’t already been tried elsewhere.
While the Australian government attracted international condemnation for its offshore processing facilities on the island of Nauru, and in Papua New Guinea, no new asylum seekers have needed to be sent to either centre since 2014, suggesting its tough message on illegal immigration has found its mark.
“The Australians were able to issue a pretty tough message,” Messerschmidt said. “And that in itself acts as quite a strong deterrent.”
For the conservatives of the Folkeparti, all this is a step in the right direction.
“From our point of view, of course, we are always happy to find the areas to push for tougher migration legislation,” said the MP, a former contestant on Denmark’s ‘Big Brother’ reality-TV show. “We would like to have a full package of policies providing better possibilities of excluding people who have sworn their loyalty to Islamic State and people that commit crime, and we would like to make it easier to withdraw Danish citizenship if it turns out that people do not have the loyalty to Denmark that they have sworn when they were given it.”
The surprising thing is not that these positions are held by supporters of the Folkeparti, but that the Social Democrats too are aligned with them. Despite parties of the left across Europe generally being pro-immigration and multiculturalism, in Denmark that is not the case.
As Messerschmidt explained, “The Social Democrats have turned 180 degrees on migration, and it was something that was done very decisively after having consistently lost elections for 20 years primarily due to migration issues. They simply decided to acknowledge that we were right.”
While some commentators suggest the Danes are in thrall to populism, that is not so, says the MP.
“I regard myself as a conservative,” he said. “The late Danish MP Jesper Langballe once said – and this is my translation into English – that you could become a conservative once you realised that there is something that you love that you are losing.
“I think many politicians and people voting for the other parties have come to realise that actually there is something with our values, our welfare, our society and our country that is at stake. And now they also understand that if we don’t change policies we’re going to lose it.”
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