Copenhagen — Denmark passed a law on Thursday enabling the Nordic country to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside Europe, defying calls to abandon the plans from NGOs and the UN, which are concerned about an erosion of refugees’ rights.

The move to pass the bill, with 70 lawmakers voting in favour and 24 against, is an apparent break with efforts by the EU to overhaul Europe’s broken migration and asylum rules, an extremely divisive subject within the bloc.

The bill would allow Denmark to move refugees arriving on its soil to asylum centres in a partner country, potentially outside Europe, where they would have their asylum cases reviewed and possibly obtain protection in that country.

“If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum” in the country, the ruling party’s immigration speaker Rasmus Stoklund told broadcaster DR.

The wealthy Scandinavian nation, which has gained notoriety for its hardline immigration policies over the past decade, has a declared goal of receiving zero asylum seekers, and instead aims to accept refugees only under the UN’s quota system.

Denmark has yet to reach an agreement with a partner country, but Stoklund said it was negotiating with several candidate countries.

Critics are concerned the plan will undermine the safety and welfare of refugees and compromise their human rights, as well as allow Denmark to avoid its obligations within the EU.

“The idea to externalise the responsibility of processing asylum seekers’ claims is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity,” said Charlotte Slente, general secretary of the Danish Refugee Council, an NGO

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) last month called on Denmark not to pass the bill, which it says could start “a race to the bottom” if other European countries follow suit.

“UNHCR remains firmly opposed to externalisation initiatives that forcibly transfer asylum seekers to other countries,” assistant high commissioner Gillian Triggs said in May.

“Such practices undermine the rights of those seeking safety and protection, demonise and punish them and may put their lives at risk,” Triggs said.


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