By Peter Stanners
The [Danish] Immigration Ministry was criticised this week for using information illegally acquired by police to affect their decisions to grant asylum.
Avisen.dk broke the story with a series of articles on Sunday 19 July, with several other Danish papers picking up the story the following day.
The media attention led to the Immigration Service meeting with the police and the Danish Refugee Council on Tuesday to discuss whether regulations were being followed.
Asylum law stipulates that the police, who are the first to interview asylum seekers, are only to determine basic information such as their identity, nationality and how they entered the country.
And then subsequent interviews with the Immigration Service establish the individual’s motives for seeking asylum before coming to a judgment on whether their claim is justified.
But information revealed this week alleged that police had also been deliberately asking about asylum seekers’ motives, a practice which has been condemned as illegal.
Several cases have come to light in which asylum seekers gave inconsistent stories to the police and the immigration service, resulting in a denial of asylum. Receiving the most attention was the case of 17-year-old Abdullah from Afghanistan.
According to Avisen.dk, Abdullah revealed two reasons for seeking asylum when speaking with police, but later included another two reasons in his interview with the Immigration Service.
This reportedly led to the Immigration Service believing Abdullah’s story was untrustworthy, even though Abdullah contends that he never told police the other reasons, simply because they never asked.
But according to the Immigration Ministry, the decision to reject a claim for asylum has little to do with what claimants tell police.
“It is not possible that the overall assessment of an asylum claim can have a negative turnout based solely on what the candidate told the police as their motivation,” Jakob Dam Glynstrup from the Immigration Service told The Copenhagen Post.
Regulations from 1995 that govern the interviewing of asylum seekers state that police should determine the identity, travel route and family connections of the individual, and that while they should not interrogate the asylum seekers about their reasons for seeking asylum, the law states that: “It is the intention that police, in registering the applicant, should record their immediate declaration for seeking asylum.”
Despite these guidelines, National Police (Rigspolitet) representatives gave inconsistent responses to Avisen.dk when asked whether they are even allowed to ask asylum seekers their reasons for applying.
In one Avisen.dk article, a police official told the outlet they did not believe they were doing anything wrong asking about motivations for asylum. In a second article on the site, however – published at precisely the same time – a police’s legal advisor said that it was not the role of the police to investigate an asylum claim.
In response to media interest after these articles were published, a meeting was held this Tuesday between the Immigration Service, Danish Refugee Council and the National Police to agree on the correct procedure for interviewing asylum seekers.
Speaking to The Copenhagen Post after the meeting, Andreas Kamm from the Refugee Council said he was pleased with the outcome.
“We agreed on the legislation and the regulations – that the police should not enter into a deep interview about individuals’ motives for asylum, but simply try and determine that they are in fact dealing with an asylum seeker,” he said.It was also decided at the meeting that more regular meetings should be held between the Danish Refugee Council, the police and the Immigration Service to improve dialogue and raise concerns regarding issues of common interest.
“It’s very uncomfortable for asylum seekers to be confronted by police so it was decided in the mid ‘90s to get lawyers to conduct the interviews instead. Employees in the immigration service now have all the skills to conduct these interviews because they know about the countries and the minorities within these countries.”
Anni Fode, the director for asylum and family reunification at the Immigration Service, commented after the meeting:
“Yesterday we held a meeting with the Danish Refugee Council and the police where the following was agreed: that the police may briefly ask the asylum seeker their reasons for seeking asylum which should be noted.”The Copenhagen Post has yet to discover any concrete cases where the police have been reprimanded for overstepping their power, despite Avisen.dk’s initial reports this Sunday – which sparked the case – stating that police were asking asylum seekers illegal questions.