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Danish MPs defend 'degrading and inhumane' plans to banish asylum seekers to remote island

Kristian Thulesen Dahl is the leader of the far-right Danish People's Party [Getty]

Date of publication: 4 December, 2018

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Human rights defenders have voiced their appal over plans to send rejected asylum seekers to a hard-to-reach island once home to a laboratory researching contagious animal diseases.
Danish lawmakers have defended the government's plans to remove hundreds of "unwanted" asylum seekers to an uninhabited island in a bid to curb immigration, after the proposal was slammed as inhumane by human rights defenders.

Martin Henriksen, MP and spokesman for the far-right, anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which supports Denmark's rightwing government, acknowledged on Tuesday that plans to remove rejected asylum-seekers or those with a criminal record to the uninhabited island may breach international law - but added that his party doesn't mind "challenging (international) conventions".

Henriksen told The Associated Press that the government's move "is a signal to the world that Denmark is not attractive" for migrants.

The isolated island of Lindholm was until this summer a laboratory facility for the state veterinary institute researching contagious animal diseases.

Read more: The Nauru Files: Torture on Australia's doorstep

From 1926 until earlier this year, cattle and pigs suspected of having contagious diseases were brought to the island, some 80 kilometres (50 miles) south of Copenhagen, to be tested.

Lindholm is already served by an infrequent ferry service, which the government proposed to reduce even further.

"We're going to minimise the number of ferry departures as much as at all possible," Henriksen told TV 2. "We're going to make it as cumbersome and expensive as possible."

The plan, adopted on Friday by the government and the Danish People's Party that between them hold a majority in parliament, is to decontaminate the uninhabited island by late 2019 and open facilities for some 100 people in 2021.

The facilities would house migrants who have been denied asylum but cannot be deported, and those with criminal records.

Immigration Minister Inger Støjberg said on Facebook: "They are unwanted in Denmark, and they will feel that."

Human rights activists have denounced the decision, calling it degrading and inhumane.

"We demand that the government and the Danish People's Party stop their plans (for the island) and improve the conditions for all rejected asylum seekers in Denmark," said Steen D. Hartmann of the online movement Stop Diskrimination.

Denmark has two deportation centres - north of Copenhagen and in western Denmark - which Hartmann called "inhumane and terrible".

Conor Fortune of Amnesty International drew parallels to Australia's disastrous offshore immigration project, tweeting: "Australia already did this on Nauru and Manus Island. It's sparked an epidemic of trauma, self-harm and suicide attempts, even among children. Sick race to the bottom."

Journalist Kareem Shaheen tweeted: "Pretty much the only consistent element of the refugee crisis is ongoing proof that Denmark's government at least is one of the most racist in the world."

Read more: Denmark's burqa ban: A lurch towards secular extremism

Henriksen, an immigration hardliner, said Denmark's decision was somewhat inspired by Australia, which is paying neighbouring Pacific island nations to hold asylum seekers who have attempted to reach Australian shores.

In recent years, Denmark has tightened its laws for immigrants, extending from one year to three the period that family members must wait before they can join a refugee in Denmark, reducing benefits for asylum seekers, shortening temporary residence permits and stepping up efforts to deport those whose applications are rejected.

At the peak of the refugee crisis in 2016, a law allowed the country's authorities to seize valuables from migrants to help finance the costs of their stay, drawing outrage from rights defenders. Danish citizens also must sell valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,520) before they can receive any government welfare benefits.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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