Denmark ex-immigration minister jailed for separating asylum-seeking couples

Inger Stoejberg. Pic: Henrik Bjerregrav

A former Danish immigration minister has been jailed for 60 days for separating mainly Syrian asylum-seeking couples in 2016.

Inger Stoejberg was tried in Denmark’s Court of impeachment that was convened for the first time in 26 years. She was tried for her order of 2016 that made it mandatory to separate asylum-seekers, most of them from Syria, if one of the partners was a minor.

The Danish parliament had appointed a commission to look into the case of a Syrian couple who had complained of separation in asylum centres. The commission ruled that the order by Stoejberg was “clearly illegal.”

Stoejberg maintained her innocence during the trial but was convicted of gross negligence and giving parliament incorrect or misleading information.

Leaving court after her conviction, she said: “It’s not just me who has lost but Danish values have lost too.”

Although she was warned by the staff members of her ministry, she also misled parliamentary committees four times.

She served as an immigration minister from 2015 to 2019 and was a member of the centre-right Venstre party. During her tenure, she was known for her hard-line approach towards asylum-seekers and imposed multiple restrictions on the process.

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The order caused controversy and was subsequently repealed after several months of coming into effect. During that time 23 married couples were split up and forced to live separately.

Stoejberg had said that she feared that the relationships may have involved forced marriages. Most of the women were separated from their spouses were aged 15 to 17 while the men were aged 15 to 32.

The current legal age for marriage in the country is 18, but the couples who were separated said they had consented to the marriages.

The verdict of the court cannot be appealed and it is not yet clear whether the former minister will serve her 60-days in jail or at home with an electronic monitoring bracelet.

Prosecutor Jon Lauritzen said that the length of her sentence “is not crucial to us. The fact that she was found guilty because there was intent has been crucial.”

According to public broadcaster DR, Venstre’s youth wing chair, Karsten Lauritzen, said: “the party was still considering whether they would cooperate with such a move.”

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