Denmark has sparked "fundamental concerns" among NGOs, charities and the European Union after its parliament passed a law that would allow the Nordic country to deport asylum seekers outside of Europe.
On Thursday, lawmakers in Copenhagen voted overwhelmingly in favour of legislation that will enable it to send asylum seekers to partner states outside the continent while their applications are processed.
Rasmus Stoklund, an immigration spokesman for the Social Democrats, said he wanted the move to send a message to asylum seekers that they aren't welcome in Denmark.
"If you apply for asylum in Denmark, you know that you will be sent back to a country outside Europe, and therefore we hope that people will stop seeking asylum in Denmark," he told local media on Thursday.
The EU expressed alarm after the bill was passed.
"External processing of asylum claims raises fundamental questions about both the access to asylum procedures and effective access to protection," Adalbert Jahnz, a spokesman for the EU Commission, said.
"It is not possible under existing EU rules or proposals under the new pact for migration and asylum," he said, adding that the right to claim asylum was a fundamental one in the bloc.
The move to pass the bill, with lawmakers voting 70-24 in favour, is an apparent break with the EU's efforts to overhaul Europe's broken migration and asylum rules, an extremely divisive subject within the bloc.
It allows Denmark to move refugees arriving on Danish soil to asylum centres in a partner country, potentially outside Europe, where asylum seekers would have their asylum cases reviewed and possibly obtain protection in that country.
Denmark has yet to reach an agreement with a partner country, but Mr Stoklund said it was negotiating with several candidate countries.
Critics worry the plan will undermine the safety and welfare of refugees and compromise their human rights as well as allow Denmark to duck its obligations within the EU.
The United Nations Refugee Agency last month called on Denmark not to pass the bill, which it says could catalyse a "race to the bottom" if other European countries begin mimicking Denmark's policy.
"UNHCR remains firmly opposed to externalization initiatives that forcibly transfer asylum seekers to other countries," UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Gillian Triggs said in May.
"Such practices undermine the rights of those seeking safety and protection, demonize and punish them and may put their lives at risk," Ms Triggs added.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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