OPINION: Denmark's new race to restrict immigration steals focus from pandemic

Michael Barrett
Michael Barrett - [email protected]
OPINION: Denmark's new race to restrict immigration steals focus from pandemic
The Danish citizenship test. Photo: Henning Bagger/Ritzau Scanpix

With a pandemic raging, Danish political discourse has once again turned towards a new focus on limiting immigration and asylum. Why?


The Danish Ministry of Immigration and Integration, in a recent statement, said that the number of asylum seekers who arrived in the country in 2020 was the lowest in almost 30 years.

In a January 30th press statement, the ministry noted that around 600 people were granted asylum in Denmark in 2020.

That figure corresponds to around 5 percent of the total who were granted asylum in Denmark in 2015, according to the ministry. That year saw a peak in refugee arrivals across Europe as hundreds of thousands fled armed conflicts in Syria and other countries.

While 600 were granted asylum last year, a total of 1,547 applied for it, according to an earlier ministry total – which means a large proportion had their asylum claims rejected.

READ ALSO: Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020

“Far fewer (people) are seeking asylum in Denmark right now. That also means far fewer residence permits for refugees. In fact, the fewest we’ve ever registered under the system we use now. That’s really good news,” Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye said in the January 30th statement.


The minister also said that “the government’s goal is essentially zero spontaneous asylum seekers,” reconfirming a stance both he and Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen had already expressed on the government’s behalf.

“We must do what we can to help the world’s refugees. But they don’t have the right to a future in a welfare state,” Tesfaye continued, noting that the government has earmarked “350 million kroner more than last year for things like helping refugees in nearby areas (to conflict)”.

The government is not alone in the Danish parliament in talking up restrictions on asylum seekers and immigrants.

On Wednesday, the opposition Venstre (Liberal) party presented a plan which it said would promote integration.

The plan includes compulsory work for refugees and immigrants on social welfare payments and reducing the current monthly social credit payment for refugees, known as integrationsydelse – which is already lower than the regular welfare benefit.

It also seeks to reintroduce a residency requirement (opholdskrav) for eligibility for unemployment cover through the A-kasse system, meaning foreign residents would not qualify until they have lived in Denmark for a set period. A controversial previous version of this rule was scrapped by the current government in 2019.

Additionally, the Liberal plan says it will take action against what it calls “a problem with social control in certain Muslim environments” by economically sanctioning homes which receive social welfare if women do not make themselves available to the labour market.

“If you can walk from Helmand to Hundige [town in Denmark, ed.], you can also go down to the park,” the Liberal spokesperson on citizenship, Morten Dahlin, said in a tweet in reference to the proposal to introduce compulsory work.

“That’s why the Liberals propose a duty to work both for those who have only just come to Denmark and for those who have been here for years,” Dahlin added.

Another party, the Conservatives, have meanwhile called for tighter citizenship rules including stricter demands on language proficiency.

READ ALSO: Applying for Danish citizenship: The process explained

Denmark, like all other countries, is still struggling with a devastating global pandemic. The challenges of that include its vaccination rollout, the effect of lockdown on mental health including amongst school children, and the impact on the economy, as well as ensuring healthcare services can cope with the additional strain.


Nevertheless, politicians remain keen to spend energy on talking up the need to again restrict immigration and asylum, despite the low numbers reported by the country’s immigration ministry.

The Social Democrats won the 2019 general election thanks in no small part to a promise to be tight on immigration. The positioning of Frederiksen and Tesfaye underlines that they intend to continue with this winning strategy.

Meanwhile, the turmoil in which the Liberals currently find themselves due to the resignation of their biggest anti-immigration profile, Inger Støjberg, means the centre-right party probably feels the need to show that its tough stance on immigration is its own, not Støjberg’s, position.

Foreign nationals who live in Denmark – whatever the reason they moved to the country – are likely to face more tight rules and othering in the public discourse as a result.

That is difficult at the best of times, but during a pandemic when many are unable to leave Denmark to visit loved ones, it feels particularly hard to take.

READ ALSO: How the dizzying cost of family reunification keeps Danes and foreign partners apart



Comments (1)

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Anonymous 2021/02/09 10:12
If, as the author mentions, the government won an election due 'in no small part' to its promise to be tight on immigration then why is it a surprise that they implement the wishes of the electorate? Does the author not support Democracy? Perhaps, like most liberals / 'far-left', only when the result supports their own twisted world view?
  • Anonymous 2021/04/21 00:04
    Its positive if a government is not openly racist. They say they are against one group, but the new government made people more patriotic and when you do not pronounce the local language danish correctly, then you get ignored, you don't get the job etc Mob mentality. If the government openly says they do not like foreigners, but the birth rate in the western world is very low. Without immigrants there will not be enough people to take care of the old and there will be a shortage of workers driving wages up and who will pay those high wages? East europe and Russia has a extremely low birth rate, so it has to be non EU workers or the country has to get the birth rates up. The government should either encourage people to have more children or increase immigration. Hating one group of people does not help society in any way. If you think long term.

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