Denmark’s rarely used Court of Impeachment has gathered to try a former immigration minister for a 2016 order to separate asylum-seeking couples when one of the pair was a minor.
Inger Stoejberg, who served as integration minister from 2015 to 2019, appeared before the court on Thursday, which was convening for the first time in 26 years.
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Earlier this year, Denmark’s parliament voted to try Stoejberg after a parliament-appointed commission said that separating couples in asylum centres was “clearly illegal” and that she had received warnings from her department that the practice was unlawful.
Stoejberg was then formally accused of illegally initiating the separation of cohabiting couples where one partner was a minor, out of concerns that it might have been a forced marriage. She also misled parliamentary committees on four separate occasions when informing them of her decision.
Thirty-two couples were to be separated — 23 of them were split up before the policy was halted months later.
Most of the women among the separated couples were between the ages of 15 and 17, while the men were between 15 and 32. Most came from Syria and some couples had children or the women were pregnant.
In Denmark, the legal age of marriage is 18. The women who were under 18 said they had consented to their marriages.
Considered an immigration hardliner, Stoejberg spearheaded the tightening of asylum and immigration rules, and Denmark adopted a law in 2016 requiring newly arrived asylum seekers to hand over valuables such as jewellery and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.
The trial is being held in an annex of the Foreign Ministry and is due to run until November 30. Stoejberg could face a fine or a maximum of two years in prison.
The court, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last used in 1995. Since it was created in 1849, five cases have been brought before the court, which consists of 15 Supreme Court judges and 15 members appointed by the Danish parliament. Only two ministers have been found guilty in the court’s history.
In 1995, former Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was given a suspended four-month sentence for having prevented Sri Lankan refugees from bringing their families to Denmark.