"More systematic consideration should be given to the best interests of the child in migration and asylum policies and procedures" said Nils Muižnieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, after a three-day visit to Copenhagen (19-22 November 2013).
The Commissioner is concerned about legislation and practices that are not fully in line with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular some of the requirements imposed on children when they apply for family reunification. "Although welcome changes have recently been made so as to ease family reunification, it is problematic that children older than 14 continue not to be eligible and that those older than eight have to demonstrate their integration potential." The Commissioner also expressed regret that children's best interest had not been duly taken into consideration in decisions, leading to forced returns of families to their countries of origin. He also cautioned against the possible return of unaccompanied minor migrants to countries such as Afghanistan, having regard to the European Return Platform for Unaccompanied Minors, in which Denmark participates as observer, is aimed at setting up reception facilities for these minors in this and possibly other countries.
After visiting the asylum seekers reception facility of Sandholm, Commissioner Muižnieks called on the Danish authorities to put an end to the "legal limbo" of rejected asylum-seekers who cannot be deported and who are required to remaining Sandholm, noting that some of them have lived there already for many years. While welcoming the steps taken by the government to provide possibilities for some of these persons to live outside Sandholm, if they cooperate with the authorities, he finds it worrying that some children have had to live for prolonged periods in this centre and have thus been deprived of some of their rights, including the right to access quality education on an equal footing with other children.
The Commissioner welcomed the fact that asylum seekers from Syria coming from areas affected by the conflict no longer needed to demonstrate that they have suffered persecution in order to obtain protection in Denmark and that more than 95% of them do actually receive protection. He encouraged the Danish authorities to follow this approach as long as required and make every effort to contribute to the protection of the increasing number of persons fleeing the conflict in Syria.
During his visit, Commissioner Muižnieks also focused on the rights of persons with disabilities, particularly intellectual and psycho-social disabilities. He noted that in Denmark persons with disabilities are ensured high-quality care and assistance and support and services in the community. However, he finds it problematic that some municipalities tend to build housing facilities in which too many persons with disabilities live together. While they may provide good material living conditions, such residences fall short of promoting the inclusion in the community and the autonomy of persons with disabilities required by the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to which Denmark is a party.
Lastly, the Commissioner is concerned about the excessive use of coercion in Danish psychiatric institutions, including forced treatment, forced medication and the use of physical restraints, sometimes for several days. He notes with interest the work carried out by the Governmental Commission on Psychiatry and encourages the authorities to develop procedures which are more respectful of the human rights of patients.
The Commissioner's report on his visit to Denmark is forthcoming.