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Denmark: Ex-immigration minister sentenced to jail

December 13, 2021

Inger Stoejberg's hardline policy of forcing married refugee couples apart has been deemed unlawful and she is to be jailed for 60 days. The verdict cannot be appealed.

Inger Stoejberg
Inger Stoejberg is the first Danish government official to be impeached in three decadesImage: Ritzau Scanpix/Imago Images

Inger Stoejberg, Denmark's former immigration minister, must serve 60 days in prison, the Court of Impeachment ruled on Monday. She was convicted of "gross negligence" over a policy that saw the separation of refugee couples in 2016.

Stoejberg, then a member of the center-right Venstre party, served as immigration minister from 2015 to 2019. During this time she became known for her hardline stance and imposing dozens of restrictions on asylum-seeking in Denmark. 

The policy in question was put into place in February 2016, when Stoejberg ordered that refugees under 18 could not be housed with their spouses. 

The measure was met with immediate controversy and was repealed several months later following several complaints, including from a Syrian couple that was forced to live apart while the 17-year-old wife was pregnant. 

Stoejberg has commented publicly that she was surprised by the outcry, as the rule was meant to curb child marriages. A total of 23 couples were separated, with the wives ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old and the husbands 15 to 32.

She was criticized for skipping a step wherein married minors are meant to be evaluated for whether they are in danger, instead automatically separating couples based on age. The asylum seekers who launched complaints all said they had consented to their marriages.

Stoejberg found to have ignored warnings from staff

Denmark's parliament has been controlled by a center-left coalition led by the Social Democrats since 2019 and voted to impeach Stoejberg in February 2021. The decision came after an investigating commission advised that the measure had been "clearly illegal," and that she ignored warnings from her own staff that the rule was unlawful.

The Court of Impeachment, which has not been convened in 26 years, found that Stoejberg was negligent in her duties and that she had provided parliament "with incorrect or misleading information.''

The court's verdict cannot be appealed and there is no way for the former minister to avoid the jail term.

She is currently an independent lawmaker and still sits in parliament, but her colleagues may vote to remove her from duty. Venstre's youth wing chair, Karsten Lauritzen, said the party was still considering whether they'd cooperate with such a move, according to public broadcaster DR.

Elizabeth Schumacher
Elizabeth Schumacher Elizabeth Schumacher reports on gender equity, immigration, poverty and education in Germany.