The Danish attitude violates humanitarian law standards and generates international scandal.
Written by Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.
A new controversial issue is emerging in the midst of the Afghan crisis. Apparently, in Europe, a system is being created to “outsource” the humanitarian responsibility for the Central Asian country’s asylum seekers. Interestingly, these refugees are under such conditions of need for displacement precisely because they have collaborated with the participation of foreign troops in the conflict, which is why it should be urgent for the Western states to receive them, not something to be “outsourced”, generating more vulnerability for them.
Recently, a scheme was denounced in which Denmark was outsourcing its responsibility for Afghan interpreters who helped its soldiers during the decades the country was involved in the Afghan War. Denmark has sent troops to Central Asia to work within the NATO framework, deploying thousands of soldiers over the years, 43 of whom died on the battlefield. During US-led operations in which Danish soldiers acted, several Afghan natives served as interpreters in order to facilitate the foreigner’s’ work. These interpreters wore the uniform of the troops they worked for and were at their disposal throughout the conflict, taking a specific side in the war. In principle, this should be reason enough for such interpreters to receive all the support they need from the States they have helped, but that is not what is currently happening.
The denounced scheme points to the United Kingdom as being the receiver state of at least 23 Afghan interpreters used by Danish forces during the war. These interpreters are said to have received authorization to live on British soil, according to data released by the Danish media, mentioning anonymous sources in the country’s Ministry of Defense. The media agency did not reveal the amount paid by the Danish state to the UK for the British to accept the refugees, but it is speculated that it was a considerably high amount. It was informed that the calculation was carried out according to the previous costs of document evaluation and refugee’s evacuation as well as future expenses to integrate them, including social benefits for five years.
At first, it could be argued that the refugees had their right upheld, only changing the country of destination, but, in fact, this is an illegal maneuver according to the norms of international law. The interpreters operated in the war in Danish uniform and received salaries paid by Copenhagen, so it is Denmark’s responsibility to give them asylum. It is not lawful for any country to deny humanitarian refuge, and this is further aggravated when a state employs foreign citizens in operations that could endanger their physical integrity in their homeland and then simply refuses to receive them. And this is precisely what is happening.
The Danish state created a way to disguise its policy of denying humanitarian visas to Afghan interpreters. Of the 23 who have already received authorization to live in the UK, twelve had previously been denied entry to Danish soil. Also, Copenhagen has employed 195 interpreters during the entire war – 139 of them have already applied for permission to live in Denmark, but only five have obtained a visa. There is a clear Danish disinterest in receiving refugees who are in this situation precisely because they have helped Denmark. Sending them to other countries through payments of large amounts to the receiver States is just a way of denying refuge without causing a great scandal in public opinion.
Poul Hauch Fenger, a lawyer and specialist in asylum law who worked for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, commented: “I haven’t seen a similar scheme before, neither in my work in the UN and the EU nor as a lawyer in Denmark (…) Denmark pays itself out of a legal responsibility for the interpreters, as we pay an amount to send them to the UK, which thus takes over the humanitarian responsibility that would otherwise have been ours”.
It remains clear and evident that Denmark is failing to comply with the basic rules of the European Union and violating its legal obligations towards people who, due to the Danish role in the war, have come to have their lives threatened in their own country. Only a small portion of the interpreters arrived in the UK, with many of them still on Afghan soil, waiting for a totally uncertain future. What will happen if London refuses to receive them? It is unlikely that the Taliban will tolerate Afghan citizens who supported foreign forces – certainly, these interpreters will be imprisoned or perhaps killed. And the Danish state would have to respond for this crime in the international courts, because if it had fulfilled its humanitarian responsibility, it would have saved the interpreters’ lives.
If a country cannot help all those who served its forces in a war – whether natives or foreigners – that country should simply abstain from fighting, even more so in a situation of voluntary military cooperation, as was the Danish participation in the Afghanistan war. When engaging in conflict, the state must bear the humanitarian costs of the combats, and this includes protecting foreign citizens who collaborated with its troops.
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