Middle East News
Controversy after Danish police storm church to seize Iraqis
Aug 13, 2009, 8:24 GMT
Copenhagen - Danish police forced their way into a church early Thursday and detained 17 Iraqi nationals who had sought refuge there after their asylum applications had been turned down.
Some 50 police officers took part in the overnight raid on the Brorson church in the Copenhagen district Norrebro, witnesses said.
'I had never dreamed that something like this could happen,' Pastor Per Ramsland of the Brorson church told reporters, saying the police action violated Danish traditions of church sanctuary.
Scores of protesters gathered outside the church and some clashed with police during attempts to stop a bus transporting the young Iraqi men. Five protesters were briefly arrested.
About 60 Iraqis have sought refuge in the church since May when Denmark and Iraq signed an agreement over the repatriation of some 240 Iraqis.
At the time of the overnight raid, some 30 Iraqis were reported to be in the Brorson church. Police did not detain women, children or elderly who have left the church and sought help from friends.
Birthe Ronn Hornbech, minister for refugee, immigration and integration affairs, defended the police action.
'The asylum seekers were repeatedly told they were obliged to return home and they could be sent back with force,' she said in a statement.
The repatriation agreement has been criticized since some of the affected individuals and families have been in Denmark for up to 10 years.
Human rights organizations, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and numerous Danish civil society groups have asked the government to allow them to stay on a humanitarian basis, citing Iraq's precarious security situation.