Denmark’s Newest Human Rights Concern: Lindholm

Written by: Eva Branson

Today, the deserted Danish island, Lindholm, is home to research labs that investigate viruses ailing cattle and swine. Researchers elected to conduct their work on Lindholm due to its isolation, limiting politicians’ and citizens’ concerns about potential contagion. In 2021, however, the research labs will be removed, and a brand new deportation center will take their place.

On Friday, November 30, the Danish government passed a new budget that included more than $115 million over the course of the next four years for the purpose of building and operating a center on Lindholm. The center is expected to house between 100 and 125 migrants slated for deportation. The migrants are, for the most part, convicted criminals who have served jail time. They have ‘tolerated stay’ status, meaning that they have no legal rights to reside in Denmark, but cannot be returned to their home country for one reason or another. Many of these migrants are rejected asylum seekers.

Lindholm is a small island of about 17 acres that lies almost two miles from the shore of the nearest inhabited island. Officials that have pushed for the policy highlight that there will be infrequent ferry service to the island, making it difficult or maybe impossible for the migrants to get away from the deportation center in their free time. Lindholm, politicians in favor of the new policy argue, is a prime location for Denmark’s newest deportation center: it is more isolated than the current two, there is no overnight access to the mainland, and it is smaller than other detention centers. Danish finance minister Kristian Jensen explained the appeal of the new location, saying “there are more limits to how much you can move around when you are on a deserted island. You are in principle obliged to remain on the island.” That’s just the problem – if migrants are obliged to remain on the island and have no access to the mainland, Denmark will be facing a charge of human rights violation.

The main concern with the policy is what Jensen likes about it: if once the camp is established, it proves to serve as a detention center rather than temporary accommodations for ‘tolerated stay’ migrants, Article 9 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will come into play. Since the individuals set to live on Lindholm starting in 2021 will have served their time for their crimes, it would be unlawful to subject them to “arbitrary arrest [or] detention.”

The anti-immigrant and arguably populist Danish People’s Party (DPP) celebrated the policy victory on Twitter with a video that has caused outrage among Danes and foreigners alike. It depicts a colored man being taken to an island on a small boat and left there, completely alone. The video explains that the island will be used to house individuals with tolerated stay, deported criminals, foreign fighters, and convicted asylum seekers. It concludes with the message, “Please share the good news!” The DPP has historically led the push for inflammatory anti-Muslim policies, such as the infamous Burqa Ban and policy proposals to “make Denmark the least attractive to asylum seekers.”

Even in its beginning stages, the policy has already set off alarm bells for human rights organizations. Environmentalist Alternative party Uffe Elbæk went to Twitter to label the policy “a humanitarian collapse where hostile politics is creating a whole other Denmark than the Denmark I love.” The Danish Institute for Human Rights has expressed to politicians that it will keep a close eye on what the conditions on Lindholm amount to. The Ministry of Immigration and Integration headed by Inger Støjberg insists that Lindholm will not become a detention center and that the migrants will not become prisoners, but also says that she will work to make the ferry go as infrequently as possible and to make prices as high as possible.

Human rights activists and organizations should continue to keep a critical eye on the progression of Lindholm. Of course, it is impossible to preemptively judge whether or not Lindholm’s conditions will amount to a “humanitarian collapse.” Only time will tell what conditions turn out to be on Lindholm, but rhetoric from Støjberg and DPP leaders give good grounds for anticipation of human rights concerns.