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UN refugee agency concerned over Denmark’s proposed immigration policies

UN refugee agency concerned over Denmark’s proposed immigration policies

The United Nations refugee agency today expressed concern about a series of proposals to reduce the number of immigrants allowed into Denmark, and expressed the hope that Copenhagen, which has a tradition of caring for refugees, will “continue to lead by example.”

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it was still studying the proposals, which appear to pave the way for new legislation, but added that it was worried about their possible effect on family reunifications, welfare benefits for refugees, and the expedited return of asylum seekers to so-called “safe countries.”

“We have some reasons to believe that the proposal would limit the possibility of seeking asylum in Denmark,” Kris Janowski, a UNHCR spokesman, said at a press briefing in Geneva.

The Danish proposals have particular resonance because Copenhagen will take over the rotating European Union presidency during the second half of 2002 at a time when negotiations on important EU directives on asylum will be continuing, Mr. Janowski added.

Denmark, which was the first country to accede to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, has traditionally been one of Europe’s strongest supporters of refugees, but last November a Liberal-Conservative coalition won a landslide victory in parliamentary elections on the pledge to significantly reduce the number of immigrants allowed into the country, UNHCR said.

Earlier this month UN High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers urged the Danish Government not to go ahead with proposed cuts to development aid, including funding for the agency. Copenhagen is UNHCR’s second biggest per capita contributor behind Norway.

Fewer than 5 per cent of Denmark’s 5.3 million people are foreigners, a lower proportion than in most European countries, according to UNHCR.