Denmark, like a number of other EU nations, has in recent years been under pressure to deal with a rising number of asylum seekers and immigrants arriving in Europe.
In late June, the Social Democrats, Denmark’s most traditionally liberal party, proposed that migrants and refugees coming to Europe should be sent back to EU-run camps in Africa to wait and apply for asylum. The Social Democrats at the time cited ethical concerns of preventing these immigrants from living as poor laborers within Europe. Social Democrat spokesperson on European matters Peter Hummelgaard cited African population growth, as well as climate change, as reasons why mass migration will continue.
Speaking at a conference in London on Tuesday 11th July, Ms. Tørnæs referring specifically to Africa reportedly said that curtailing the continent’s population growth by increasing access to contraception and family planning was an important foreign and security policy priority for the Danish government.
“If the population growth in Africa continues as now, the African population will double from 1.2 billion people to 2.5 billion people by 2050,” Ms. Tørnæs said. “Part of the solution to reducing migratory pressures on Europe is to reduce the very high population growth in many African countries.”
Denmark, a small, homogenous country generally recognized for its social democratic values and strong welfare state, has like other European countries seen immigration become a central political issue. For this reason Denmark has been a consistent partner on family planning, and Tørnæs herself has championed this issue. The Danish government has easily surpassed its pledge of $13 million for family planning by 2020 made at the 2012 Family Planning Summit. Tørnæs was applauded at the Tuesday conference after stating that Denmark will next year celebrate 40 years of meeting the UN goal of dedicating 0.7 percent of GNI to international aid.
Danes however aren’t the only ones to have stepped into the minefield of African family planning lately. Newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron last week at the G-20 summit in Germany railed against what he called Africa’s “civilizational problems,” including families with “seven to eight children per woman.” That drew a hearty rebuke from Africa specialists, who noted that the French colonial legacy — continued today by the Catholic Church — frowned on contraceptives, exacerbating birth rates and scourges like HIV/AIDS across the continent.
While Denmark’s willingness to underwrite family planning has never been in doubt, the unprecedented influx of migrants; and Tørnæs’ frank admission about the national-security motivations behind such efforts; may make clear just what’s behind some of Europe’s apparent good will.
“I’m in the situation that I have got an increased budget line due to reduction in refugee costs back home, and I envisage that I will spend quite a lot of this on issues related to family planning….so you can count on Denmark and our support for this agenda,” Tørnæs said.
Human rights and dignity infringement in Denmark
The proposal of population control may be an over-simplification of migrant motivations but it is only a further indication of the Dane drive to curb what they feel is an unmanageable number of refugees and asylum seekers.
The Danish parliament in 2016 approved a controversial law allowing authorities to seize refugees’ cash and valuables, and delay them being reunited with their families.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen called the proposals the “most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history” in the wake of international criticism. The United Nations warned the measures would “fuel fear and xenophobia” but Danish politicians claimed they were “about creating equality between migrants and Danes”.
Arriving asylum seekers will be allowed to keep up to 10,000 kroner (£1,000) in cash and valuables but anything above that will be seized to pay for their stay.
The bill includes several other measures regarding asylum seekers, including raising the waiting period before refugees can apply for their families to join them from one year to three. The family reunification delays have also been heavily criticized, with Denmark being accused of violating the European Convention on Human Rights.
Jonas Christoffersen, the director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera: “The right of refugees to be reunited with their family is protected by numerous international conventions ratified by Denmark. We believe the government is overstepping international law by implementing this bill.”
Amnesty International said the country had started a “race to the bottom” as support for refugees continues to wane across Europe. “To prolong the suffering of vulnerable people who have been ripped apart from their families by conflict or persecution is plain wrong,” John Dalhuisen, its Europe and Central Asia Director said. “This is a sad reflection of how far Denmark has strayed from its historic support of international norms enshrined in the Refugee Convention. European states must stop this dismal race to the bottom and begin to meet their international obligations, by upholding refugees’ human rights and dignity. Anything less is a betrayal of our common humanity.”
Denmark is clearly no longer upholding the values in the European Convention on Human Rights and its intentions cannot be entirely altruistic.