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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Denmark and Rwanda move forward on asylum seeker transfer plan

Denmark and Rwanda on Friday said they would move forward on a plan which would see asylum seekers in Denmark transferred to an offshore facility in Rwanda while their claims are processed.

Denmark and Rwanda move forward on asylum seeker transfer plan

The two countries signed a joint statement on bilateral cooperation which declared they were “exploring the establishment of a program through which spontaneous asylum seekers arriving in Denmark may be transferred to Rwanda for consideration of their asylum applications.”

It would also include “the option of settling in Rwanda,” the statement said.

The declaration was published on the website of Denmark’s Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

It goes a step further than an earlier partnership agreement, announced by the two countries in 2021, because Rwanda now expressly states that it wants to accept asylum seekers from Denmark.

Earlier declarations referred more vaguely to Denmark’s goal of establishing an offshore or “third-country” asylum centre.

Danish ministers Kaare Dybvad Bek (Immigration) and Flemming Møller Mortensen (foreign development) are currently in Rwanda, where they held a doorstep press briefing on Friday with Rwandan officials to present the new agreement.

Securing an offshore asylum centre has been a long-term, stated ambition of the governing Social Democratic party. The Danish Foreign Ministry recently announced it had opened a local office in Kigali, where two diplomats from the ministry will be based from late this year.

In June 2021, Denmark, known for having one of Europe’s harshest stances on immigration, adopted a law enabling it to open asylum reception centres outside Europe where applicants would live while their case is being processed.

Asylum seekers would still need to submit applications in person at the Danish border and then be flown to the reception centre in another country.

The declaration states that the two lands are working together to enable asylum seekers to remain in Rwanda after their cases are processed.

The two countries say they will speak to the EU Commission and other international bodies to “facilitate international dialogue” about what Denmark and Rwanda view as solutions to the current “dysfunctional” asylum system.

“We are working hard to create a fairer asylum system and we have continuously taken news steps,” Bek said in a press statement.

“At the same time it is important that we don’t rush anything through but instead do our work thoroughly and reach an agreement that complies with Denmark’s and Rwanda’s international obligations,” he said.

When the 2021 Danish law was passed, the European Commission said the Danish plan violated existing EU asylum rules.

Denmark has an opt-out on EU law which keeps it outside of the EU cooperation on laws relating to border control and asylum (but not visa rules and the Schengen area).


However, the Nordic country could find itself in violation of the Dublin Regulation should it press on with the plan.

The regulation sets criteria for how EU member states must process asylum claims.

Earlier this month, the EU Commission told Danish political media Altinget that a legal assessment of whether the Dublin Regulation had been infringed would be initiated if Denmark went ahead with the plan.

The minority government is also likely to face blowback over the plan from left wing parties which usually secure its parliamentary majority.

The immigration spokesperson with the Social Liberals (Radikale Venstre), Kathrine Olldag, told newspaper Jyllands-Posten on Friday that her party “can not put mandates behind a government – regardless of party colour – that fulfils this project” by moving asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Conservative parties have meanwhile called the two ministers’ visit to Rwanda a campaign stunt, with a general election rumoured to be announced this autumn.

The UK government has also announced a controversial policy to deport rejected asylum seekers to Rwanda, but it has stalled amid legal challenges.