The government of Nauru has refused to grant visas to two Danish politicians critical of Australia’s offshore detention system, triggering a diplomatic row between Australia, Nauru and Denmark for the “undemocratic” decision.
The diplomatic crisis has drawn the Danish foreign minister, Kristian Jensen, into the dispute with the Nauruan government and high level Australian officials.
The Guardian understands that the delegation were given approval to visit the immigration processing centre in official correspondence with Australia and Nauru.
The decision to refuse the politicians visas is likely to intensity international scrutiny on Australia’s immigration detention system, following the publication of the Nauru files by the Guardian, and longstanding concerns over the secrecy of Australia’s detention regime.
A cross-party Danish parliamentary group of six politicians has been in Australia since Saturday, as part of a long planned visit to examine Australia’s offshore detention system.
They met with Australian immigration officials while in Australia, and had planned to depart for Nauru on Tuesday to gain a rare glimpse on the Nauru detention facility.
But their plans were thwarted when the arrived at Canberra airport on Tuesday for the flight to Nauru and discovered three members of the delegation had been refused visas.
Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, a progressive politician from the red-green alliance (Enhedslisten), has been openly critical of Australia’s detention system. She and Socialist People Party member Jacob Mark, who had also been critical of Australia’s policies, were two of the members who were declined visas. A third politician, who has not been publicly critical of Australia, Syrian-born conservative MP Naser Khader, was also denied a visa.
Schmidt-Nielsen posted on Facebook: “The Danish delegation as a whole then cancelled their visit to Nauru. The government of another country should not be able to pick out members of a Danish parliamentary delegation. Such an action is deeply undemocratic.”
“The visit has been under preparation for a long time in cooperation between authorities form Denmark, Australia and Nauru. A detailed programme of the visit had been made.”
She said it was “anybody’s guess” why Khader had been denied access as well.
“It is totally unacceptable, antidemocratic and very telling of the situation on Nauru that critics are denied access.”
Jensen tweeted on Tuesday he was working on resolving the matter. The Guardian understands he had been in contact with the Nauruan government’s foreign minister.
Politicians from the Social Democratic party, the Danish People’s party and the governing Liberal party (Venstre) were still permitted to continue on to Nauru. But the remaining three politicians all declined to continue on to their visit to Nauru without the other three delegates.
The trip had been a secret for months until a Danish radio station 24syv broke news of the visit. It is costing the Danish government about AU$100,000.
Heated debate has occurred in Denmark over how the country should respond to migration in Europe. Some far-right groups have urged the country to adopt a similar model to Australia’s system of offshore detention.
The Danish People’s party has even suggested asylum seekers should be sent to Greenland or Tanzania as part of a similar offshore arrangement.
The Australian government has faced heavy international criticism over its management of the Nauru detention centre, as well as the extraordinary regime of secrecy it has put in place over the facility. Only a few handpicked journalists have been able to access the detention centre since it opened three years ago.
The government of Nauru has been contacted for comment.