In the last months we have heard officials in Israel claim that according to Denmark, Eritrean asylum seekers are no longer entitled to refugee status. This was based on a report published by The Danish Interior services on November 25 2014. The report’s main point was that refugees from Eritrea could now return to their home country without any risk of torture or imprisonment, given that they pay a 2 percent off their salary as tax to the State of Eritrea and sign a regret-declaration. Britain also published a report quoting the Danish one 39 times.
When we examine this claim an entirely different story reveals itself. Not only was the method of data collection problematic and received much critic, but Denmark itself revoked the report’s conclusions and continues to approve asylum requests from Eritreans that arrive to the country.
On August 13 2014 the Danish minister of Justice sent out a press release saying that Denmark needs to investigate if asylum seekers from Eritrea that arrive to Denmark have a real need for protection, and If not they should be deported. Following this statement The Danish Immigration Service stated that they will send out a mission to Eritrea to evaluate the situation, and until this evaluation is made no Eritreans will receive asylum, a decision that was later on strongly criticized by representatives from the UN.
A “fact-finding” mission
For two weeks in October 2014, The Danish Immigration Service sent three officials to Eritrea with the purpose of collecting data and documentation to be used in creating a report about the condition and the state of the country.
Jens Weise Olesen and Jan Olsen, who conducted the fact-finding mission in Eritrea for the Danish Immigration Service, renounced from the report’s conclusions saying it does not reflect the data collected. They revealed that their superiors applied pressure on them to reach the conclusions desired by the government, allowing them to deny Eritrean asylum requests. After working for 20 years for the Danish interior services, both quit in protest of the report.
The only source that was quoted by name in the report was Gaim Kibreab, a professor at London South Bank University. After the report was published he claimed that his quotes were taken out of context and that his work on the report was compromised. He commented that: “If a person choose to leave Eritrea illegally, it will be perceived as if the person has betrayed his country. And if the person will return to Eritrea, the person will be imprisoned and tortured. Everyone who is being questioned in Eritrea will be tortured while interviewing. This is normal procedure”. This statement contradicts the reports conclusions.
Sheila B. Keetheruth, the first Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrean behalf of the UN, joined the critic on the report and the Danish government’s decision to stop accepting Eritrean asylum request until the report will be done. Regarding the situation in Eritrea, she said to the Danish daily newspaper, Berlingske that “Eritreans flee from forced military service (for an undefined period of time), random imprisonments, isolation imprisonments, inhuman conditions in prisons, killing, disappearing and torture… Punishment for avoiding military service is up to five years in prison. In cases where deserters cannot be found, the family members are punished instead”.
Overwhelming international critique
International orginazations also criticised the Danish report. UNHCR - The UN Refugee Agency claimed that ion contradiction to what was written in the report, they never met the research team in Asmara. “To make it certain and avoid confusion among the readers, we find it important to state that the information described in the UN-organization report did not come from UNHCR officials”
Additionally, they criticize the use of quotations in the report, saying that some of the statements in the report were “suspicious”: “The report makes no reflection of the reliability of certain sources”.
In addition, Amnesty International strongly criticized the fact-findings of the Eritrea-Report and claimed that it should not be a part of The Danish Authorities treatment of the cases of Eritrean Asylum seekers.
In the months following the publication of the report, the issue received much attention in the worldwide media, and less Eritrean refugees entered Denmark. According to the Danish Immigration Service, In August 2014 606 asylum seekers applied for asylum, whereas in November that same year only 64 applied. This was a decrease of 89 percent.
Following the vast criticism on the report from within and outside the country, the Danish Immigration Service eventually decided not to use some of the most central conclusions from the report, and today almost all asylum seekers from Eritrea are granted asylum in the country.
Unfortunately, it seems like the damage has already been done. One of the devastating consequences of the report is that some countries rely on its findings. For instance, in spring 2015 Britain publish two new guidelines that have to do with refugees, strongly inspired by the Danish report (it is mentioned 39 times).
Kjetil Tronvoll, a Norwegian professor who is world-known for being familiar with the situation in Eritrea, said to the Danish newspaper, Belingske:
“The Danish conclusions are circulating the international sphere, and are being used as sources to verify allegations, which have not even been proved”.
Written by Anne Bonnevie Lundbye, journalist from Denmark studying a master International Migration and Policy at Tel Aviv University