As It Happens

Denmark treating migrants like 'inferior race' by sending them to remote island: MP

A Danish opposition politician is shocked that the government is planning to send migrants to live on an island used for studying diseased animals.

Uninhabited Lindholm Island previously used to study diseased animals

The Danish government has proposed using Lindholm Island for up to 100 migrants who have been denied asylum but cannot be deported, and those with criminal records. ( MADS CLAUS RASMUSSEN/AFP/Getty Images)


The Danish government's plan to send migrants to a remote island is reminiscent of German rhetoric in the 1930s, an opposition MP says.

"We've had a quite strict foreign policy and refugee policy in Denmark throughout the last handful of years. But this is really something special," Carolina Maier, an MP for the left-wing Alternative party, told As It Happens host Carol Off.

"This resembles something that we've seen previously in the history of Europe, which we're not proud of."

Last Friday, the Danish government joined forces with the Danish People's Party to adopt a plan to move some migrants to Lindholm Island.

Lindholm Island has been used, so far, for research aiming to control and prevent infectious animal diseases. (Mads Claus Ramussen/AFP/Getty Images)

Until this summer, the isolated island was a laboratory facility for the state veterinary institute researching contagious animal diseases.

Now, the government plans to decontaminate the uninhabited island and open facilities for some 100 people in 2021.

The facilities would house migrants who have been denied asylum but cannot be deported, and those with criminal records.

A 'paradigm shift'

Human rights activists have denounced the decision, calling it degrading and inhumane.

Maier said asylum-seekers who've served time for their crimes in prison shouldn't be subjected to more punishment.   

"Usually in Denmark ... when you're done your time in prison, you are accepted as a citizen like the rest of the population. So it is really looking at these people with eyes as if they belong to an inferior race," said Maier.

We're really moving back in terms of multiculturalism and acceptance and tolerance.- Carolina Maier, Alternative party MP

A pro-government lawmaker acknowledged Tuesday the plans may breach international law — but added that his party doesn't mind "challenging [international] conventions."

Martin Henriksen of the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which supports Denmark's centre-right government, told The Associated Press the government's move "is a signal to the world that Denmark is not attractive" for migrants.

"It's really a new thing for us to be thinking of groups of people as not deserving the same rights as the rest of the population," Maier said.

"This is really a shift of paradigm in Denmark and we have a very proud tradition of being a very humanitarian country."

Carolina Maier is an MP with the left-wing Alternative party. (Submitted by Carolina Maier)

'We're really moving back'

In recent years, Denmark has tightened its laws for immigrants: extending from one year to three the period that family members must wait before they can join a refugee in Denmark, reducing benefits for asylum-seekers, shortening temporary residence permits and stepping up efforts to deport those whose applications are rejected.

In 2016, a law allowed the country's authorities to seize valuables from migrants to help finance the costs of their stay.

Danish citizens also must sell valuables worth more than $2,040 (10,000 kroner) before they can receive any government welfare benefits.

A woman leaves some jewellery in front of the Danish embassy in Athens during a protest by pro-migrant demonstrators against Denmark's anti-migrant laws. (LOUISA GOULIAMAKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Maier told As It Happens these recent changes are owed to the influence of the Danish People's Party. And she said she'd like to see more public outrage.

"What really concerns me is that of course there was a lot of public opinion saying 'this is just too much'... But then again there's no public arousal about it. We don't see the big demonstrations in the streets against it."

Maier added she worries about Denmark's international reputation.

"I'm really concerned that the international society is going to look at us and think, 'Well, this is not a country that would like to visit or have co-operation with'.

"We're really moving back in terms of multiculturalism and acceptance and tolerance."

Written by Donya Ziaee. With files from The Associated Press. Interview with Carolina Maier. Produced by Chris Harbord.