Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020

A combination of the Covid-19 pandemic and stringent rules and policies resulted in the lowest number of asylum seekers being registered in Denmark since records began in their current form in 1998.

Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020
The so-called 'departure centre' for rejected asylum seekers at Sjælsmark, January 2020. Photo: Nikolai Linares/Ritzau Scanpix

2020 saw a total of 1,547 asylum seekers, according to a statement from the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

That is less than one tenth of the number recorded in 2015, when 21,316 people applied for asylum in Denmark at the peak of the European migration crisis.

“Last year, we had the lowest number of asylum seekers in living memory. A part of the reason for this is likely to be the coronavirus situation. But I also think we can thank our strict immigration policies,” Social Democratic immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye said in a ministry press statement.

Tesfaye has sought to position himself as being tough on immigration since taking over the role in 2019, in keeping with the platform on which the Social Democrats won that year’s general election.

READ ALSO: Denmark announces youth crime plan aimed at people with immigrant backgrounds

“Very many of those who come here have no need at all for protection,” he also claimed in the statement.

In 2019, Denmark declared that some asylum seekers from Syria could be sent back to the Damascus province, after an assessment by the Immigration Service which concluded the conditions in the area were no longer dangerous enough for asylum to be granted automatically.

Although some Syrian refugees had their asylum revoked as a result of this assessment, later reporting revealed they were not initially deported because the Danish government did not want to cooperate with the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus.

The assertion that the Syrian capital was safe enough to return refugees met with criticism at the time.

“The situation is still extremely dangerous in Syria and Assad is still a known torturer and executioner,” Eva Flyvholm, then-foreign affairs spokesperson with the left wing party Red Green Alliance (Enhedslisten), told TV2 in February last year.

“Just having been a refugee can mean you come under Assad’s radar and could be in danger,” Flyvholm added, opposing the government’s position that it was safe to return Syrian refugees.

In Thursday’s statement, Tesfaye also said that difficulty in repatriating rejected asylum seekers underlined the need to limit further arrivals.

“Fewer asylum seekers means, all other things being equal, lower spending on processing applications, accommodation and deportation of those whose claims for asylum are rejected. We can spend that money on more welfare at home and on persecuted people in local regions [near to conflict zones, ed.],” he said.

The definitions used to record total asylum seeker numbers go back to 1998, meaning comparable records do not go further back than this, the ministry noted in the press statement. The 2020 figures are still preliminary, it also stated.

2019 saw a total of 2,716 asylum seekers registered. As such, the number fell by 57 percent between 2019 and 2020.

The figures do not directly reflect the number of actual asylum seeker arrivals, the ministry said, since they include those who travelled to the country without asylum and those who already have a basis for it, for example due to family reunification.

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Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.


Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.