Denmark to take 1,000 refugees on voluntary basis

Migrants wait to cross the border from Austria to Germany near Freilassing, Germany, on Sept 17, 2015.
Migrants wait to cross the border from Austria to Germany near Freilassing, Germany, on Sept 17, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

COPENHAGEN (AFP) - The Danish government said on Thursday (Sept 17) it had voluntarily agreed to accept 1,000 migrants out of the 120,000 the EU plans to relocate to ease the burden on frontline states.

The anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DPP), on which the right-wing coalition normally depends to pass legislation, said it would not back the move.

"In light of the extraordinary situation, we have today told the parties in parliament that the government will offer to receive a limited number of asylum-seekers. The number is 1,000 people," Integration Minister Inger Stojberg told a joint press conference with Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen.

The government said it has yet to decide the period of time over which the refugees will be accepted. The issue will be discussed next week.

Despite the lack of DPP support, the government has enough backing among other parties to get the move passed in parliament.

Denmark also announced it would give an additional 750 million kroner (S$159 million) over the next two years to humanitarian efforts in the areas bordering conflict zones, and to the EU's Frontex border agency, Rasmussen said.

"The time has come for common solutions in Denmark as well as in Europe. It is not easy. There are no easy solutions," he said.

- Tough immigration stance -

EU member Denmark has negotiated an opt-out from Europe's immigration policy and Rasmussen emphasised there was little support in parliament for accepting refugees under a European quota plan.

"A good solution should bring the influx under control so that there is more room for integrating the refugees who come here," he said.

Copenhagen's ruling minority coalition took power in June, campaigning on tougher asylum rules and on halving benefits for newly-arrived immigrants in a bid to make the country less attractive to refugees.

The DPP, the biggest party in the right-wing bloc, said it would vote against any plan that made the additional refugees the responsibility of local authorities.

"For this to even be realistic, these people should stay temporarily in government (funded) centres, and sent home as soon as possible," lawmaker Martin Henriksen told news agency Ritzau.

In a surprise announcement earlier this week, the party said it was open to receiving more refugees but only if their stay in the country was temporary and they lived in state-run camps.

One DPP lawmaker suggested sending refugees to Greenland, a former Danish colony.

- Shift in opinion -

The Danish government drew criticism for placing adverts on September 7 in several Lebanese newspapers warning of the changes in regulations that had been made to make the country less attractive to migrants.

But dramatic images of Europe's refugee crisis have helped sway public opinion and a Monday survey by pollster Voxmeter showed that 78 per cent of Danes wanted the country to be part of the EU's plan to distribute refugees around the continent.

The hardline policy of Integration Minister Stojberg - who has previously suggested screening migrants based on religion - has also come under fire, not just from the opposition but from members of her own party.

In response to the refugee adverts, the head of a Danish group calling itself "Refugees Welcome" on Tuesday wrote an opinion piece in Lebanon's English-language Daily Star urging more asylum seekers to come to the country.

"The case-processing time is among the fastest in Europe ... and the waiting time for family reunification is between four and seven months," Michala Bendixen wrote.

The country also has one of Europe's highest refugee recognition rates, with nine out of 10 Syrians having had their applications granted, she added.

Just under 15,000 people were granted asylum in Denmark in 2014, making it the EU's fifth largest recipient of refugees per capita.