Back Denmark: concerns over the impact of shift in asylum policy and need for further progress in the protection of the human rights of persons with disabilities

Country visit
Strasbourg 05/06/2023
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During her visit, Commissioner Mijatović visited the Avnstrup returns centre (top left and centre), the Sofiebo residential unit for children with autism (top right) and the House of Disabled People's Organisations (bottom left and right)

During her visit, Commissioner Mijatović visited the Avnstrup returns centre (top left and centre), the Sofiebo residential unit for children with autism (top right) and the House of Disabled People's Organisations (bottom left and right)

“While Denmark has a solid track record with regard to international human rights obligations, there are challenges that persist, and actions that should be taken to step up protection. This is particularly the case for some of the most vulnerable groups in our societies, such as refugees, asylum seekers and migrants, as well as people with disabilities,” said Dunja Mijatović, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights today, following her visit to Denmark. 

The visit provided an opportunity to evaluate progress since the last visit by the Commissioner’s predecessor in 2013, which focused on the same two thematic areas. 

The Commissioner is concerned about Denmark’s extensive shift over the past decade towards a policy of providing only temporary protection to those who seek asylum, with the aim of returning individuals to their country of origin as soon as possible. This policy has led to a climate of instability and uncertainty for people who may have already fled persecution or conflict, and may also be hampering integration efforts.

During her visit to Avnstrup returns centre for families who have been refused asylum or had their residence permits revoked, the Commissioner learned with regret that a large number of children and young people, some of whom have been living there with their families for many years in a state of limbo, are additionally suffering from poor mental health and well-being as a result of their situation. The Commissioner raised with the authorities the fact that immigration detention is still frequently used and called for the improvement of reportedly harsh conditions in centres Kærshovedgård and Ellebæk.

Underscoring the negative effects of long-term family separation on persons applying for family reunification, their family members who have been left behind, and the host society as a whole, the Commissioner was pleased to note the government’s planned initiatives to ease aspects of the family reunification requirements.

With regard to the rights of persons with disabilities, the Commissioner observed a number of legislative developments, including in the area of prohibition of discrimination against persons with disabilities, and through the introduction of new rules concerning legal capacity, which opens up the possibility for these persons to retain their voting rights. Despite this, the Commissioner notes that there has been little progress over the years in closing gaps in the effective enjoyment of rights between people with disabilities and the general population in many areas, including education, employment and health.

Although a reduction was reported in recent years, the Commissioner notes with concern the continued use of belt restraints in psychiatry, as well as the reported high overall use of other forms of coercion.

The authorities’ acknowledgment of these challenges and apparent good intentions to improve the situation for persons with disabilities is to be welcomed. The Commissioner noted positively many initiatives and planned or ongoing evaluations of current laws and practices, aimed at better ensuring quality of life and respect for human rights of persons with disabilities in several areas. At the same time, she invites efforts for a more cross-sectoral and comprehensive approach in the field.

Through her field visits, the Commissioner moreover noted specific efforts, such as pedagogical methodologies used to enhance the self-determination of children with autism in Sofiebo Residential Unit, and the innovative accessibility solutions used within the House of Disabled People’s Organisations (Handicaporganisationernes Hus).

During the visit, the Commissioner met with the Minister for Justice Mr Peter Hummelgaard and Minister for Immigration and Integration Mr Kaare Dybvad Bek, as well as representatives of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Ministry for the Interior and Health, and Ministry for Social Affairs, Housing and Senior Citizens. She also met with a wide range of civil society actors whose work pertains to the topics covered, the Danish Institute for Human Rights, the Parliamentary Ombudsman Mr Niels Fenger, the Central Council for Disabilities (DCH) and National Integration Council (DNIR).

A report on the visit is forthcoming.