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A 'European race to the bottom': human rights defenders criticise Denmark's new immigration bill

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A 'European race to the bottom': human rights defenders criticise Denmark's new immigration bill
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Denmark's parliament voted to pass a controversial immigration bill on Thursday, which will see the tightening of regulations on refugees and asylum seekers residing in the country.

The bill, which will come into force on March 1, places emphasis on the "temporary" status of residence permits handed to refugees, saying refugees should be sent home when possible.

Refugee permits should be "withdrawn or exempted when possible, unless it is in direct conflict with Denmark's international obligations," the bill read.

Among other amendments, was a potential limit on the number of family reunifications, and greater punishments for the breach of an entry ban.

Human rights and refugee groups have widely criticised the bill.

'European race to the bottom'

In a statement sent to Euronews, Christian Friis Bach, the secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council, said he was "saddened" to hear news of the parliamentary decision.

"We are saddened to see that Denmark takes part – and sometimes actually put itself at the front seat - in the European race to the bottom, when it comes to limiting rights for asylum seekers and refugees," he said.

"Refugees who have received asylum in Denmark should not live a life in constant uncertainty and worry about losing their residence permit. Their stay in Denmark must be safe and dignified in order for them to build the foundation for a bright future for themselves and their children, whether this future may be in Denmark or in their home country."

On the tightened regulations on Denmark's family reunification process, Friis Bach added the Scandinavian nation would be contributing to the prevention of refugees returning to a family life.

It "would also deprive refugees from their basic human rights of being reunited with their family members, often being stranded in a war zone," he said.

"People in such difficult situations should not be forced to be separated from their loved ones."

International regulations

The UN's Refugee Agency echoed several comments made by the Danish Refugee Council, saying the focus on temporary residency should not be used to pressure uncertainty on a refugee's life.

"Such uncertainty can be detrimental to refugees’ ability to lead normal lives and adapt to Danish society," Henrik M. Nordentoft, UNHCR's regional representative for northern Europe, said in a statement sent to Euronews.

Emphasis on temporary residency also "cannot change the fact that the international refugee regime, including the 1951 Convention on Refugees, regulates in detail when refugee status can be terminated," he added.

"UNHCR trusts Denmark to adhere to these principles and criteria, and hopes that Denmark will consult with UNHCR before any further steps are taken in this regard."

Thursday's bill was just the latest in tighter restrictions being placed on foreign nationals in Denmark.

In December, the Danish parliament passed another controversial bill, which could see foreign nationals with criminal records banished to an uninhabited island.

READ MORE: Denmark votes to go ahead with prison island