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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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.