Better protection needed for migrant children in Denmark

Report on visit to Denmark
Strasbourg 24/03/2014
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Centre for asylum seekers in Sandholm, Denmark

Centre for asylum seekers in Sandholm, Denmark

"The best interests of the child are not always upheld in the context of asylum and immigration in Denmark. The Danish authorities should improve the protection they provide to migrant children, by ensuring full respect of their rights" said today Nils Muižnieks Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in releasing the report on his visit to Denmark carried out on 19-21 November 2013. 

In spite of positive changes introduced in 2012, further progress is needed, in particular to ensure that family reunification proceedings involving children are dealt with in a positive and humane manner. "This includes extending the right to family reunification to children older than 14, so as to comply with the definition of a child provided in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child". The Commissioner also stressed that the best interests of the child should prevail over their integration potential, or the integration potential of their parents.

The Commissioner is also alarmed by the impact that life in asylum centres for indefinite periods of time has on children belonging to families of rejected asylum-seekers whose deportation order cannot be implemented. "Even though the material living conditions are adequate, many of these children suffer from psycho-social disorders and other developmental problems due to long-term uncertainty. This situation can hardly be reconciled with the right to a standard of living adequate for the child's development".  The Commissioner also calls for effective investigation into the fate of unaccompanied minor migrants who have disappeared from reception centres and for measures to protect children victims of trafficking and to prevent further disappearances.

While noting a more selective approach regarding migrant detention, the Commissioner considers that improvements are still needed. "Detention of migrants and asylum-seekers must be a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period and it should never be applied to vulnerable persons, such as children, persons with disabilities and victims of trafficking in human beings. Regrettably, this is not yet the case in Denmark".

Welcoming the guidance provided by the Director of Public Prosecutions on the implementation of criminal law provisions against hate speech and hate crime, the Commissioner encourages the Danish authorities to step up their efforts to combat hate speech, and in particular islamophobia, which continues to be widespread in public and political debate. "The Danish authorities should firmly condemn all instances of racist and xenophobic speech in political discourse and further raise awareness about the limits of freedom of expression in accordance with international standards".

The Commissioner welcomes Denmark's policies promoting autonomy of persons with disabilities, but is concerned about the trend among local authorities to accommodate them in residences with 20 to 80 housing units. "This approach does not favour the independent living and inclusion in the community of persons with disabilities, a right guaranteed under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Local authorities should be provided with guidance on the building of housing facilities which are more compliant with the principles contained in this Convention".

Progress is also required to replace substituted decision-making with supported decision-making for persons considered incapable of managing their own matters due to psycho-social or intellectual disabilities. "As a first step to this end, full incapacitation and plenary guardianship should be abolished. Measures must also be taken to ensure that persons with disabilities can enjoy their right to vote." The Commissioner also calls on the authorities to consider expanding protection against discrimination on the ground of disability to cover all areas of life, not only employment.

Lastly, the Commissioner calls on the Danish authorities to improve legislation and practices regarding coercion in psychiatry, including forced hospitalisation, forced treatment and the use of physical restraints. While welcoming the current plans of the Danish authorities to act in these fields, the Commissioner stresses the urgent need to reduce involuntary placement and treatment and to drastically limit the use of coercion. "The authorities should also strengthen guarantees against arbitrary or disproportionate decisions regarding forced placement, ensure respect for the consent of the patient and prevent further violations of the right of patients to physical integrity from occurring."

Read the report

Comments of the Danish authorities