The bill would allow Denmark to move refugees arriving on Danish soil to asylum centres in possible partner countries such as Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia and others.

Police officers walk at the Danish-German border in Krusaa, Denmark on January 9, 2016.
Police officers walk at the Danish-German border in Krusaa, Denmark on January 9, 2016. (Reuters)

Denmark's parliament has passed a law enabling the Nordic country to relocate asylum seekers to countries outside Europe, defying calls to abandon the plans from NGOs and the United Nations, both of which fear an erosion of refugee rights.

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

The European Commision responded by saying the bloc has "fundamental concerns" about the law.

The bill would allow Denmark to move asylum seekers arriving on Danish 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.

The bill was proposed by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's Social Democrats.

"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 Denmark," the government party's immigration speaker Rasmus Stoklund told broadcaster DR earlier on Thursday.

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"External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection," said a spokesperson for the European Commission, Adalbert Jahnz.

"It is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the new pact for migration and asylum," he said, adding that the right to claim asylum was a fundamental one in the bloc.

Candidate countries 

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

Danish media said the talks occurred with five to 10 countries, and named Egypt, Eritrea and Ethiopia as possibilities.

Denmark is meanwhile known to be in talks with Rwanda.

The two have signed a memorandum of understanding on asylum and migration cooperation, though the document doesn't specifically cover external asylum processing.

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Rights of asylum seekers

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

"The idea to externalise the responsibility of processing asylum seekers' asylum claims is both irresponsible and lacking in solidarity," Charlotte Slente, general secretary of the Danish Refugee Council, an NGO, said in an emailed statement to Reuters.

The United Nations Refugee Agency last month called on Denmark not to pass the bill, which it says could catalyse a "race to the bottom" if other European countries begin mimicking Denmark's policy.

"UNHCR remains firmly opposed to externalisation initiatives that forcibly transfer asylum seekers to other countries," UNHCR 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.

Denmark has repeatedly made headlines in recent years with its anti-immigration policies, including its official "zero refugees" target, its withdrawal of residence permits from Syrians now that it deems parts of the war-torn country safe, and its crackdown on Danish "ghettos" in a bid to reduce the number of "non-Western" residents.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies