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Have Wrong Passport, May Not Travel in Denmark

Copenhagen, July 18 (RFE/RL) -- Danish Interior Minister Birte Weiss says she plans to seek overhaul of what she calls her country's "over-restrictive" immigration policies.

It has recently become public that Danish immigration authorities work from several lists of countries designated as places of origin posing high immigration risks. The lists make obtaining visitors' visas next to impossible for citizens of such countries.

The 'highest risk' list includes ten African nations, in addition to Bosnia-Herzegovina, Afghanistan, Iraq, Algeria and Sri Lanka. Authorities justify the list on the grounds that citizens of these countries are most likely to overstay or try to settle permanently in Denmark.

Immigration and the issuing of visas are among the most sensitive areas in Western European national and international politics. Nationals of some former communist states, such as Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, now may travel freely and without visas to the West.

Citizens of other countries, such as Romania, Bulgaria and Russia, must undergo what many consider a lengthy and humiliating procedure to obtain a Western visa.

Denmark and its neighbors, Sweden and Finland, are members of the European Union (EU), but they don't subscribe to the Schengen Agreement, which provides for common travel and immigration policies in the EU. Denmark expects to begin full participation next year. In that case, the Danes will have to allow travelers from nations that subscribe to the Schengen Agreement to enter Denmark freely.

The Schengen Agreement does allow countries to control visitors, however. So, while the current government in Copenhagen may consider relaxing visa regulations for nationals, it is likely to continue to restrict admission of most potential immigrants and refugees.

The Baltics Region human rights commissioner, Ole Espersen, a former Danish justice minister, says that Danish visa requirements are contradictory, out of line with international practices and punitive.

Espersen, also a former commissioner at the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, gives what he calls a 'grotesque' example of the inconsistencies of visa policies: While Lithuanians and Estonians don't need visas to visit Denmark, Latvians do.

Espersen has researched visa practices in all 11 countries bordering the Baltic Sea and has written their foreign ministers. He says that visa issuance rules are so complicated as to be incomprehensible to ordinary citizens.