Denmark worried about Sweden’s asylum influx

With immigration a hot topic in the lead-up to the Swedish elections, Danish politicians warn about the negative consequences of their neighbours' generous asylum policies.

Denmark worried about Sweden's asylum influx
Sweden is expected to take in as many as 100,000 refugees this year and Danish politicians fear that many of them will end up in Denmark. Photo: Muhammad Hamed/Scanpix
As Sweden prepares to go to the polls on Sunday, that country’s immigration and asylum policies are creating debate in Denmark.
With Sweden taking in a record number of asylum seekers – 340,000 are expected over the next four years – Danish politicians are warning of the negative impact the influx could have on Denmark. 
“The many Syrians who are coming to Sweden as refugees will become Swedish citizens in a matter of a few years. And with the agreements we have among the Nordic nations, there is nothing to stop them from then immediately moving to Denmark – without a Danish residence permit – and receiving welfare benefits from day one. It is a big danger,” Søren Espersen of the Danish People’s Party told Berlingske. 
Espersen called on the Danish government to express “Danish concerns about the completely excessive immigration underway in Sweden” to their Swedish colleagues.
Justice Minister Karen Hækkerup said that Denmark is indeed prepared to act if a stream of new Swedish citizens creates a form of “welfare tourism” in Denmark. 
“I think I should be careful about what I, as a member of the Danish government, think about Sweden’s immigration policies, but I will say that the government would never allow something similar to happen here at home,” she told Berlingske. 
“It’s not as if the coffers are just sitting wide open for Swedes who come to Denmark and if it appears that it is becoming a type of welfare tourism, we will of course have to talk to the Swedes and find a solution,” Hækkerup added. 
The Danish stance on Sweden’s immigration approach wasn’t exactly greeted warmly on the other side of the Øresund, where immigration has been a hot issue in the run-up to the elections. 
Sweden’s migration minister, Tobias Billström, accused Denmark of not doing its part to accommodate asylum seekers.
“I thought that all members states in the EU had agreed to ensure safety for those who need it. Everyone can see what sort of situation families from Syria and Iraq are fleeing from. Therefore I’d like to see Denmark change its asylum policies and display more solidarity,” he told Berlingske. 
“To be honest, I was really puzzled when I saw Hækkerup’s comments warning against the Swedish asylum policies. All EU countries, including Denmark, should take a hard look at the the situation in Syria and Iraq and ask themselves if they can consciously reject asylum seekers from there,” he added. 
Denmark accepted 3,889 refugees in 2013 while Sweden opened its doors to more than 28,000. Sweden is expected to take in as many as 100,000 refugees in 2014
For much more on the Swedish elections, visit The Local Sweden.

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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.