Refugees in Kliplev, Denmark (credit: picture alliance/dpa/B. Nolte)
Refugees in Kliplev, Denmark (credit: picture alliance/dpa/B. Nolte)

Denmark is sandwiched between two of the most popular destinations for asylum seekers in Europe, Sweden and Germany. Though generally known as a liberal welfare-state, the country has taken in far fewer refugees in recent years then its neighbors – both per capita and total.

In the first five months of 2017, just 1,268 people applied for asylum for the first time in Denmark according to Danish immigration . For comparison: 95,134 people filled for asylum in Germany during the same time according to the . That's 75 times as much, though Germany only has 14.5 times as many residents. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of people filing first-time applications in the Scandinavian country dropped sharply, from around 20,825 to 6,055.

While Denmark has relatively few asylum applicants, the country has one of the highest acceptance rates - though this number has also decreased recently. In 2015, just over 81 percent of all asylum seekers were granted the right to stay at first instance level. In 2016, the number was 68 percent.

This trend might be explained through a number of new asylum policies introduced in 2016.

Harder for recent asylum seekers

In January 2016, the Danish parliament passed a series of measures making it harder for asylum seekers to live in Denmark and to enter Denmark. Those who have been granted subsidiary protection status now have to wait for three years to be eligible for family reunification. (Denmark was not alone in introducing waiting periods for family reunification –Germany introduced a two year wait for those with subsidiary protection in February 2016.) Danish authorities were also authorized to seize assets (such as jewelry) from refugees if their value exceeds $ 1,450, with the exception of items of “sentimental value,” such as wedding rings.

Copenhagen also made the decision to no longer accept the 500 refugees per year that used to be resettled to Denmark through the UN's refugee organization UNHCR.  

Who is eligible?

Danish authorities issue asylum to people

…who can expect to be persecuted in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion

…who face capital punishment, torture or inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment in their home country.

Refugees are granted residency permits valid for up to two years at a time. They can file for an extension or request a consecutive residency permit.

How does the asylum process work?

Anyone residing in Denmark - regardless of whether they entered the country legally or not - can file an asylum request. Copenhagen does not let people request asylum from outside the country, though - filing an application at a Danish embassy abroad or the like is not possible.

There are two places one can request asylum: at a police station and at the Sandholm Accommodation Centre, an asylum center north of Copenhagen.

If someone has already been registered as a potential asylum seeker in another EU country, Denmark will likely refuse to process the application and send the person back to the respective country, following the so-called Dublin Regulation.

Until the authorities have decided whether to grant an applicant asylum, that person will be required to live at a shelter for asylum seekers. There is one exception to this: If someone entered Denmark through a non-EU country that Copenhagen considers safe, Danish authorities might sent that person back to the respective country while they are processing their asylum request.

The Danish Refugee Appeals Board’s reviews most asylum rejections and makes the final decision on the case. The asylum seeker has the right to be represented by a lawyer in front of the board.

Unaccompanied minors might not be required to file for asylum in order to be granted the right to stay if they are not deemed significantly mature. Their chances are also greater to be able to stay even if their application is rejected – authorities might issue a residence permit if there is reason to believe that the minor would have to fend for themselves in their home country if they no longer have family there.