Minister praises ‘low’ number of Denmark asylum applications in 2021

A total of 2,095 applications for asylum were registered by Denmark in 2021, less than 10 percent of the number who came to the country for protection in 2015.

Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye said he was pleased to see asylum applications in Denmark remain low in 2021.
Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye said he was pleased to see asylum applications in Denmark remain low in 2021. File photo: Ólafur Steinar Rye Gestsson/Ritzau Scanpix

The number represents an increase compared to 2020, when the Covid-19 crisis most severely impacted international travel and migration. 1,515 people applied for asylum in Denmark in 2020.

Both the 2020 and 2021 figures are 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.

The new data was released by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

Among the 2,095 asylum seekers in 2021 are 430 Afghans who were evacuated as the Taliban gained control of Kabul in August last year.

The definitions used to record total asylum seeker numbers go back to 1998. The 2021 figures are still preliminary.

Around 12,000 people applied for asylum in Denmark in the years 1999-2002 before the total dropped, ranging between 2,000 and 6,000 annually until 2012. It then increased, partly due to the conflict in Syria and was 14,792 in 2014 and 21,316 the following year, the highest on record.

Since 2017, the annual total of asylum applications has not exceeded 4,000.

“I’m pleased we still have low asylum numbers here. A serious of clever decisions have been made which have continually ensured better control of immigration,” immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye said in a ministry statement.

Earlier in January, Tesfaye was on the sharp end of criticism from MEPs – some from European equivalents of his own Social Democratic party – over the Danish government’s policy of sending some Syrian refugees back to the Damascus region.

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, claiming “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

Despite a wave of Danish and international criticism, including from experts used by the government, Tesfaye’s ministry has refused to budge over the policy.

Some members of the LIBE committee argues that Denmark was displaying a lack of solidarity with other EU countries because refugees in Denmark were more likely to apply for asylum elsewhere in the EU than risk return to Syria.

He received support from other MEPs during the hearing, notably Peter Kofod of the far-right Danish People’s Party and national conservative Italian MEP Nicola Procaccini.

READ ALSO: EU politicians criticise Denmark over return policy for Syrian refugees

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Danish authorities criticised for use of physical force on asylum seeker

A video has spread on social media appearing to show hard use of physical force by Danish authorities during the deportation of a woman whose asylum claims were rejected.

Danish authorities criticised for use of physical force on asylum seeker

Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye has been summoned to a parliamentary committee, at which lawmakers from other parties can demand the minister respond to the incident, broadcaster DR reports.

The video was shared by Trampoline House, a Danish independent citizens’ resource NGO for asylum seekers and refugees. The organisation wrote on social media that the woman, a mother of three, was injected with a tranquiliser during the attempted deportation.

In the video, which was taken at the Avnstrup asylum centre, four people can be seen holding the woman to the ground, with her head held against the paving stones. She is visibly shaking in the footage. A man in civilian clothing then brings restraints which are used to tie her.

The Danish Return Agency (Hjemrejsestyrelsen), the agency responsible for processing deportations, and the North Zealand police told news wire Ritzau that medicine had not been administered to the woman, however. They confirmed that physical restraint was used.

The woman, an Iranian national, was to be deported from Denmark with her two oldest children while her youngest child, who is one year old, remains in Denmark with its father, according to Trampoline House, which also wrote on social media that splitting the family represents a breach of the ECHR’s right to family life.

She is also reported to hold an expired Iranian passport.

“I can’t bear to think of the fate that awaits the Kurdish woman who was yesterday forcibly deported. I have called Tesfaye in to consultation so he can explain if this is really how we treat people if it’s up to the government,” Sikandar Siddique of the Independent Green party wrote on Twitter.

Rosa Lund of the Red Green Alliance said in comments to newspaper Politiken she was unaware Denmark was able to forcibly deport rejected asylum seekers to Iran because this would require a repatriation agreement with Iran, which Denmark does not have.

The Ministry of Immigration and Integration told the newspaper that this is in fact possible for persons who have an Iranian travel document, regardless of whether the document is valid.

“This forced deportation testifies to a complete failure of the Danish asylum policy. Both ethically and practically,” Trampoline House told The Local in a written comment.

The organisation called for more humane treatment of vulnerable asylum seekers and argued that this would in fact benefit the established policy of deporting persons whose claims for asylum are not granted.

“In Denmark we take away people’s basic rights and confine them into isolated camps. In the Netherlands the rejected are allowed to work, study and enjoy a much more normal life, until departure date,” it added, noting that in 2017, 4.4 percent of rejected asylum seekers left Denmark voluntarily, while the Netherlands recorded a proportion of 44 percent.

READ ALSO: Inside Denmark’s Kærshovedgård deportation camp

According to broadcaster TV2, the Danish Return Agency has confirmed that the woman left Denmark on a flight following the episode captured in the video, but has now returned to the country after sustaining an injury during the journey. 

Danish law allows the use of physical force in deportations if necessary when a person without legal residence status in Denmark does not comply voluntarily with their deportation travel.

According to the country’s Aliens Act (Ulændingeloven), such enforced deportation must be “with respect for the individual and without unnecessary use of force”.

Police are responsible for carrying out deportations based on the decisions made by immigration authorities.

“If people don’t leave voluntarily, they can be deported forcibly. As long as you stick to restraint and don’t turn to violence, it’s within the framework [legally, ed.],” Niels Henrik Christensen, a lawyer specialised in asylum, refugee and immigration law, told TV2.

“Force is used and (authorities) have that right. Nothing in the video surprises me. I’m not saying that to defend it, but that is allowed,” he said.