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Yugo Refugee Case Causes Denmark to Debate Asylum Process

  • Anthony Georgieff

Copenhagen, July 3 (RFE/RL) -- The case of three asylum-seekers from the former Yugoslavia who were recently told they must leave Denmark is inspiring a political debate in Copenhagen over the fairness of Danish asylum procedures.

The three asylum seekers -- identified by the press as two Kosovo Albanians and a Macedonian -- are part of a group of 32 former Yugoslav applicants to whom the Danish Interior Ministry last year granted exceptional leave to remain in the country after publicly admitting it had mishandled their asylum applications.

The mishandling consisted of advice on their applications by a Serbian lawyer, Igor Pantelic, employed at that time by the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The use of Pantelic by the ministry caused a scandal when he later was revealed to be a member of a Serbian extreme group. Pantelic was fired.

Now, news reports say that the three asylum speakers have recently received denials to their asylum applications, meaning they must leave Denmark in the near future.

Our correspondent in Copenhagen says that the Macedonian was denied asylum because he is considered to have come from an independent country and cannot be threatened by external extremist organizations. The reasons for the denials to the two Albanians are not yet clear.

Two political parties in the Danish parliament (the Folketing) over the weekend raised questions about the three asylum seekers' case on the house floor. So far, Birte Weiss, the interior minister who is ultimately responsible for refugee cases in Denmark has stated she had never promised asylum to anyone but only had pointed out the 32 cases would be re-considered.

The controversy highlights what many champions of human rights see as recent problems with the way Denmark approaches the cases of political refugees.

In its latest report, Amnesty International criticized Copenhagen for not giving adequate consideration to applications from what it considers "safe countries". The designation of "safe" countries, which Copenhagen considers to include the whole of eastern Europe and most of the former Soviet Union, means that applications are "express" evaluated in-grosso within several weeks and result in almost certain denial.

Refugees denied under the "express" procedure have few rights of legal appeal. The first country to introduce lists of 'safe' countries was Germany, and Denmark quickly followed suit.

Interior Minister Weiss answered Amnesty International's criticism by saying that treating refugee applications fast is necesary to sift through masses of applications quickly enough to give adequate time to genuine asylum needs. Our correspondent says that an application considered "genuine" can take several years to process and includes rights of appeal all the way to the parliamentary level.