Six obvious reasons why the right to work and live outside the asylum camps should also apply to rejected asylum seekers who do not wish to assist in voluntary repatriation
by Out of the Camps!
1 –––– There are about 900 rejected asylum seekers in Denmark, of whom the police estimate that about 150 persons are cooperating in returning to their country of origin. If the right to live and work outside asylum camps is limited to this small group of people, then the majority of rejected asylum seekers will be excluded. A majority of those who have lived in asylum camps for many years – in some cases up to 17 years – will be excluded.
The same is the case for rejected asylum seekers whom the authorities have classified as ‘non-deportable’ – such as those coming from countries that have no readmission agreement with Denmark – and therefore are locked within the asylum system.
2 –––– It is absurd to ask an asylum seeker to sign an agreement to return home voluntarily. Asylum seekers have fled from torture, persecution, and deep insecurity. They have often made life-threatening journeys and paid enormous amounts of money in order to escape their home countries. The demand for voluntary repatriation is experienced by most asylum seekers as meaningless, and for that reason obviously very few choose to comply.
3 –––– Rejected asylum seekers have been placed under pressure for many years to sign voluntary return agreements using so-called ‘motivational measures’. Along with being transferred to a deportation-center (Sandholm or Avnstrup), these measures involve the removal of pocket money, cancellation of any potential internship, as well as police interviews once or twice every week. Many are also imprisoned for months in Ellebæk Prison, situated next to Center Sandholm, which Amnesty International has reported on and criticized. The police admit that it is difficult to see the benefits of these actions. Groups of asylum seekers from Iraq and Kosovo were once offered large sums of money to leave voluntarily, but very few accepted. Experience from Norway in the ‘90s has demonstrated, however, that among a group of Bosnians who were immediately granted residence permits, many chose to return home voluntarily after the end of the war. This was not the case for another group of people who had been waiting two years to get a residence permit.
Likewise, many of the Iraqi interpreters who got residence in Denmark without any waiting time in 2008, later decided to return home voluntarily. The message is crystal clear: asylum camps only isolate and pacify asylum seekers and do not motivate them! No matter how much effort is put into making life intolerable for rejected asylum seekers, very few choose to return voluntarily. Motivational measures like these – that result in the exact opposite effect than the one desired – are absurd and degrading.
4 –––– Years of life spent in a camp psychologically destroys human beings. The statistics show that if it has not been possible to deport a rejected asylum seeker during their first two to three years – by which time most people are deported – then that person ends up spending the next 10 years in an asylum camp. The consequence for many is psychological destruction – a condition that takes an enormous length of time and resources to overcome. There are currently 68 asylum seekers in Denmark that have spent more than ten years in a camp. Paradoxically, many are granted humanitarian stays due to the serious mental illnesses that start long after their arrival in Denmark. Surveys show that life in Danish asylum camps does more harm to children than the traumatic experiences they have often left behind.
5 –––– Limiting the right to live and work outside asylum camps to only include those who are cooperating in their own repatriation is a threat to the integrity of the asylum system. No one should be pushed or lured into giving up their asylum case in order to be able to work and live outside the camp. Some rejected asylum seekers manage to have their case reopened, subsequently obtaining a residence permit. This is the case for 74 rejected Somalis who have recently been granted asylum after many years in camps, on the basis of judgment made by the European Court of Human Rights.
6 –––– No reasonable or humane person could claim that asylum seekers are committing an offence against the law by seeking asylum. And who would seriously claim that this is the case for asylum seekers if they are rejected? The Government’s initiative to also allow rejected asylum seekers to work and live outside the camps would be an important acknowledgement of this. But they must go the whole distance. It is natural and logical that rejected asylum seekers do not wish to go agree to voluntarily return home. If the politicians want to keep this group of asylum seekers in isolation and passivity and push them with punitive ‘motivational measures’, it is both pragmatically foolish and ethically wrong. Even though people who have fled carry many scars on their bodies and minds, they are also incredibly resourceful people who have experienced hardships that few people can imagine. To give all asylum seekers the opportunity to live and work outside the asylum camps, allowing them to lead an active life and maintain and develop their skills, would be for the common good, regardless of where the asylum seekers will end up living. It is the least we should demand.