Explaining that there are only “limited opportunities to detain foreigners who come to the country”, the Danish National Police (Rigspolitiet) announced that officers will no longer attempt to stop arriving refugees and migrants from leaving Denmark if they don't wish to formally seek asylum.
“This is a police decision built on the options that are allowed under the law and on our obligations. We can not hold foreigners who don't seek asylum and who can't be sent out [of the country] quickly again,” National Police Chief Jens Henrik Højberg said in a statement.
Højberg said that that refugees and migrants who do want to seek asylum in Denmark will be processed and transferred to local immigration authorities.
However, the Danish Justice Ministry added that just 400 of the estimated 3,200 refugees and migrants who have arrived in Denmark since Sunday afternoon have applied for asylum. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen put the number at 668 later on Thursday.
"The large majority of the arrivals [...] have refused to communicate with Danish authorities. Most of those who have had contact with the Danish police have stated that they want to go to Sweden to claim asylum," a ministry statement read.
After days of trying to register the arrivals and house them in temporary quarters, the Danish National Police explained that it can no longer try to keep the refugees in Denmark.
“We can obviously not detain so many people indefinitely. Therefore there are no other options than to let them go. And with that, we cannot keep them from going wherever they want,” Højberg said.
As of Thursday morning, trains arriving in both the harbour town of Rødby and the southern Jutland town of Padborg were being allowed to continue on toward Copenhagen, the jumping-off point for crossings by bus, train or car to Sweden.
Police have also reportedly allowed citizens to drive refugees to Sweden by car, a practice that earlier in the week led to a handful of arrests.
Officers said that most of the arriving refugees and migrants were actively avoiding any contact with the Danish police in an effort to not be registered in Denmark.
“We have a very difficult task handling all of those who enter – especially because most of them do not want to contact us and be registered. We are talking about people, families and children, who have been travelling a long time from conflict areas, and Danish police are doing a lot to deal with this situation peacefully, using dialogue and patience,” National Police Commissioner Svend Larsen said in a separate statement.
Sweden, one of many European countries struggling with the worst migration crisis since World War Two, has become a top EU destination for refugees by issuing permanent residency to all Syrian asylum seekers since 2013.
In contrast, Denmark has sought to reduce the influx by issuing temporary residence permits, delaying family reunions and slashing benefits for newly arrived immigrants. The Danish government has publicized those policies through an international advertising campaign.
Swedish officials said on Thursday that 322 refugees have crossed over from Denmark since Monday.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has called for a meeting with the leaders of parliament's political parties later on Thursday to discuss the government's position on the refugee influx.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven meanwhile has called for Sweden's entire public sector to unite to ensure the swift resettlement of the latest influx of refugees.