Former Danish Immigration Minister Convicted Over Order to Separate Asylum-Seeking Couples

A former Danish immigration minister was convicted Monday of separating couples in asylum centers, a practice that a Danish parliament-appointed commission said was "clearly illegal." The country's Court of Impeachment convened for the first time in 26 years to try Inger Stoejberg, who now faces 60 days in detention.

The Danish parliament voted in favor of trying Stoejberg for charges related to a 2016 order to separate asylum seeking-couples when one of them was a minor. Stoejberg has said that she gave the order out of concern that the minors were involved in forced marriages.

Staff members in her ministry reportedly warned her that the action was unlawful, but 23 couples were separated before the policy was stopped months later. Most of the women separated from their partners were between 15 and 17 years old, while the men were between 15 and 32 years old.

The legal age of marriage in Denmark is 18, but the women under 18 said they had consented to the union. Some of the couples, most of whom were from Syria, entered Denmark with children or while the woman was pregnant.

Stoejberg maintained her innocence during the trial that began September 2, but the court convicted her of "intentionally or through gross negligence neglecting the duties" of her position and giving "incorrect or misleading information" to parliament.

"It's not just me who has lost but Danish values have lost too," Stoejberg told reporters outside the court after her conviction.

It is not yet known if her 60-day sentence will be served in jail or at home with an electronic monitoring bracelet. Prosecutor Jon Lauritzen told reporters 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," he said.

Stoejberg Conviction
The Danish Court of Impeachment convened for the first time in 26 years to try former Immigration Minister Inger Stoejberg, who now faces 60 days in detention after her conviction. Stoejberg addresses the media after a meeting on border control at the EU Commission in Brussels on Wednesday, January 6, 2016. Geert Vanden Wijngaert/AP Photo

Court President Thomas Roerdam said one judge argued for Stoejberg's acquittal, but he didn't name the judge. The verdict cannot be appealed.

Stoejberg, who received flowers from supporters after the court delivered its decision, said she was "very, very surprised by the verdict" but would serve her sentence. Defense lawyer Rene Offersen called it "a disappointing outcome."

Stoejberg was accused of misleading parliamentary committees four times while informing them about the separation policy she adopted as minister. It will now be up to fellow lawmakers to decide whether she can continue to serve as a member of the 179-seat Folketing.

She served as minister for immigration, integration and housing from 2015 to 2019 as part of Denmark's previous center-right government.

Considered an immigration hardliner, Stoejberg spearheaded the tightening of asylum and immigration rules. A 2016 law required newly arrived asylum-seekers to hand over valuables such as jewelry and gold to help pay for their stays in the country.

Since the 2019 election that brought the Social Democrats to power, immigration has become a less pressing issue in Danish politics.

The Court of Impeachment, which adjudicates cases in which government ministers are accused of unlawful misconduct and misuse of office, was last used in 1995. That year, former Justice Minister Erik Ninn-Hansen was given a suspended four-month sentence for having prevented Sri Lankan refugees from bringing their families to Denmark.

The court consists of 15 Supreme Court judges and 15 members appointed by parliament. Since it was created in 1849, the court has considered five cases and Stoejberg's case is the third to result in a guilty verdict.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Former Danish Minister Convicted
Former Danish Immigration Minister Inger Stoejberg was convicted Monday of separating couples in asylum centers, a practice that a Danish parliament-appointed commission said was “clearly illegal.” Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen, left, and Stoejberg attend a meeting of the Civil Liberties Committee at the European Parliament in Brussels on Monday, Jan. 25, 2016. Virginia Mayo/AP Photo