Danish officials have downplayed concerns that a new immigration agreement struck with Rwanda could lead to the East African nation hosting refugees for Denmark.
On Wednesday, Denmark's Ministry of Foreign Affairs published a "Memorandum of Understanding regarding cooperation on asylum and migration issues" signed during a visit from Danish immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye to Rwanda last week.
While the memorandum does not outline any clear plans for Rwanda to host refugees for Denmark, languaging in the document has sparked concerns that the agreement could open a door down that path.
In the memorandum, the two countries condemn the current asylum system, branding it an "unfair and unethical" structure that incentivises "children, women and men to embark on dangerous journeys along migratory routes, while human traffickers earn fortunes".
"There is a need to finding new ways of addressing the migration challenges by promoting a fairer and more humane asylum system based on a comprehensive approach," the memorandum states.
While it states that such an approach would include addressing the root causes of irregular migration, providing better protection of refugees in conflict zones and increasing assistance to "host nations, countries of origin and transit", it also stresses that it is "the vision of the Danish Government that the processing of asylum applications should take place outside of the EU in order to break the negative incentive structure of the present asylum system".
Denmark wants to 'move asylum proceedings' out of EU
That line, coupled with the government's previously announced ambitions to "move asylum proceedings outside the EU", has sparked alarm, with Amnesty International warning Denmark that "shifting responsibility to protect refugees" would be a "new low".
In a statement released earlier this year, Tesfaye had said that Denmark had identified "a good handful" of countries that could help the European nation bring its vision of processing "asylum cases and the protection of refugees outside the EU's borders" to fruition.
"Then there is no reason at all to pay the human traffickers for a place in the rubber boat," he said. "And then we do not have to spend 300,000 kroner a year for every single rejected asylum seeker who refuses to travel home."
Tesfaye said Denmark had "identified a good handful of countries where we see opportunities to enter into cooperation and have initiated a more concrete dialogue with some of them".
What remains unclear, however, is whether Rwanda is one of them.
“The idea that rich countries can pay their way out of their international obligations, stripping people seeking asylum of their right to even have their claims considered in Denmark, is deeply worrying," said Nils Muižnieks, Europe Director at Amnesty International.
Already, Amnesty and other immigration and human rights groups had spoken out in opposition to Denmark's recent decision to declare it safe for Syrian refugees from Damascus to return home.
Noting that Denmark received just over 1,500 applications for asylum last year, representing the lowest number in two decades, Amnesty called on its supporters to write to Tesfaye to call for the ongoing protection of Syrian refugees in Denmark.
'Close cooperation' on asylum
Questioned on whether Denmark is hoping to see asylum seekers and refugees held in Rwanda, spokespeople for both the country's ministry of foreign affairs and immigration appeared to downplay concerns.
In a statement sent to Euronews, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Immigration did not directly address the question of whether Denmark's agreement with Rwanda could lead to refugees being accommodated in the East African country.
They said last week's trip to Rwanda was focused on strengthening "the good bilateral relationship, which Denmark and Rwanda have developed over the recent years".
The spokesperson said Denmark and Rwanda signed agreements that "express mutual interest in a closer cooperation on asylum and migration and in widening the political consultations on development cooperation".
Both countries, they said, acknowledge that these are "non-binding agreements, but constitute a framework for strengthening the future cooperation," they said, adding that "the two governments will spend the coming time to discuss specific areas where the cooperation can be strengthened".
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, meanwhile, told Euronews that it would be speculation to suggest that the agreements made could lead to refugees being accommodated in Rwanda.