Denmark imprisons Chinese International student at migrant facility after visa overstay

A 2020 file photo of the Ellebæk ‘departure centre’ for migrants and asylum seekers with no legal right to stay in Denmark. Photo: Nikolai Linares/Ritzau Scanpix

According to The Local, a 24-year-old Chinese graduate student, Bingzhi Zhu was in early January arrested by Danish police for overstaying her visa and spent time first in a regular Danish prison, then in a psychiatric ward and eventually she was detained at a center for illegal immigrants awaiting deportation from Denmark.

Her crime? Her graduation from the University of Copenhagen, Department of Environment and Development was delayed from August 2020 to May 2021 due to the pandemic but the university had given her permission to hand in her thesis in May this year instead.

On 30 December 2020 however, she realized that her study visa was about to expire and after contacting the Danish immigration service’s Agency for International Recruitment and Integration (SIRI) she was partly able to complete the application and paid the processing fee of DKK 1,900. Under visa rules, Bingzhi Zhu was also required to submit a statement from the University of Copenhagen but was unable to receive that due to holiday closure, and after reporting the matter to the police she was advised to wait.

Bingzhi Zhu. Photo: private

Despite her attempt to extend her visa, she was subsequently arrested for overstaying her visa on 5 January and taken to Vestre Fængsel prison and later admitted to psychiatric departments at Amager and Bispebjerg hospitals. Bingzhi Zhu has told The Local that she has no criminal records in China or Denmark but suffered from depression.

After a series of interviews with police and psychiatric consultations, she was eventually taken to Ellebæk on 29 January. Ellebæk is a detention center for people without legal right to be in the country that was highly criticized last year in a report by the Council of Europe’s Committee for the Prevention of Torture. Bingzhi Zhu has described to The Local several instances of harsh treatment and verbal humiliation at Ellebæk where she was placed in an isolation cell. These include being pushed by staff without provocation; a refusal by staff to use Chinese inmates’ names, instead referring to them as ‘China 1’ and ‘China 2’; and isolation without being given warm clothes or a Bible she had requested.

She called Ellebæk “a jail and a hell,” said, “I’m a 24-year-old graduate student who paid a huge amount of tuition fees in Denmark, but I have now been in prison, a psychiatric center, and at a deportation center. Everyone in Denmark should know what happens here. I would rather be in prison or on the psychiatric hospital ward.”

The Local has unsuccessfully tried to get a comment from the Danish prison service (Kriminalforsorgen) and the University of Copenhagen but immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye responded by saying he could not comment on the specifics of Zhu’s case but had asked ministry officials to look into what had taken place.

“I can say that my general view is that you should leave the country if you don’t have the right to be here. That is self-explanatory,” he said.

Read the full article and more on the case here

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