Danish ex-minister jailed for separating asylum-seeking couples

Former immigration minister has been sentenced to 60 days in prison for separating underage asylum-seeking couples.

A special court in Denmark found former Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg 'guilty of a deliberate violation' [File: Francois Lenoir/Reuters]

Denmark’s former immigration minister has been sentenced to two months in prison after a special court found her guilty of illegally separating several couples of asylum seekers where the female member was a minor.

“Inger Stojberg is found guilty of a deliberate violation of the Ministerial Responsibility Act,” Denmark’s Court of Impeachment of the Realm said in a statement on Monday, adding that the punishment had been set at 60 days in jail.

Stojberg was accused of violating the European Convention on Human Rights by ordering the separation of asylum-seeking couples, some of whom had children, when the female member was under the age of 18.

The former minister had pleaded not guilty in the exceptional trial that began in September.

While the sentence was not suspended, those in Denmark serving less than six months are eligible for electronic monitoring instead, meaning Stojberg is unlikely to spend any time in prison.

In 2016, 23 couples, most of whom had a small age difference, were separated without individual examination of their case, following instructions from the minister. They were then placed in different centres while their cases were being examined.

Her decision was found to be “unlawful” because the arrangement was made without exceptions and the immigration service did not consider individual cases.

“Stojberg said she initiated this policy in order to protect underage girls and in order to stamp out child marriage,” Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom reporting from Copenhagen, Denmark said.

“She has maintained her innocence in all this from the get-go, saying that nothing about this was illegal.

“Just last year this commission [set up to investigate] concluded that the order that Stojberg initiated was as they said, ‘clearly illegal’ … and that’s what led to this impeachment court proceeding.”

Parliament must now decide whether to disqualify Stojberg from being a member of parliament.

Serving as the Minister for Immigration and Integration from 2015 to 2019 in a centre-right government propped up by the right-wing populist anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DF), Stojberg helped tighten up Denmark’s restrictive migration policy.

She boasted of having passed more than 110 amendments restricting the rights of foreigners.

During her term in office, she also passed a bill allowing for the confiscating of migrants’ assets to finance their care in Denmark.

This is only the third time since 1910 that a politician has been referred to the 26-judge special court in Denmark, which is designed to try ministers for malpractice or negligence while in office.

The last case dates back to 1993 with “Tamilgate”, the illegal freezing of family reunification of Tamil refugees in 1987 and 1988 by former Conservative Minister of Justice Erik Ninn-Hansen.

Ninn-Hansen ended up with a four-month suspended prison sentence.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies