Danish ex-minister faces impeachment in 'child bride' case

FILE PHOTO: Denmark's Minister of Immigration and Integration Inger Stojberg listens to the debate in the Danish Parliament, January 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mathias Loevgreen Bojesen/Scanpix/File Photo./File Photo

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Former Danish Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg, known for her hard stance in that role, is facing impeachment for illegally ordering the separation of underage couples seeking asylum.

The centre-right politician, who served as minister from 2015 to 2019, said the aim of the action was to stamp out child marriages.

In the impeachment trial, which would be only Denmark’s sixth in more than 170 years and the first since 1995, she is accused of knowingly breaking the law in 2016 by ordering the separation of underage refugee couples.

A majority in parliament on Thursday expressed support for an impeachment, including her own Liberal Party, but the decision awaits final approval.

Denmark has over the last decade gained notoriety for its hardline immigration policies, such as allowing authorities to confiscate asylum seekers’ jewellery and deterring Middle Eastern refugees through newspaper adds in their countries.

Stojberg was also behind a plan to hold foreign criminals facing deportation on a tiny island, although the plan was later abandoned by the current government.

The case started when a Syrian couple complained to the country’s ombudsman in 2016 after they were placed in separate asylum centres. Stojberg has repeatedly denied giving any illegal order and said she wanted to protect the underage girls.

Under Danish and human rights law, each couple must be assessed individually, implying that the minister’s order to separate all underage couples was illegal. In total, 23 couples were separated.

An investigation into the case, also known as the “child bride case”, concluded in December the order to indiscriminately separate all underage couples was “clearly illegal” and in breach of human rights.

Reporting by Tim Barsoe, Nikolaj Skydsgaard and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Angus MacSwan