Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 January 2018, 09:04 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Denmark

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 1 June 2003
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2003 - Denmark , 1 June 2003, available at: [accessed 24 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

At the end of 2002, Denmark hosted nearly 5,200 refugees and asylum seekers, including nearly 1,700 persons granted de facto refugee status, nearly 1,300 persons granted regular refugee status, nearly 1,300 asylum applicants with pending claims, nearly 500 resettled refugees, and nearly 500 Bosnians and Kosovars with temporary protection.

During the year, around 6,100 asylum seekers filed applications in Denmark, a decrease of about 50 percent from 2001. The largest groups of asylum seekers arrived from Afghanistan (1,200), Iraq (1,045), and Yugoslavia (1,030). Around 350 persons filed applications at Danish Embassies, and only 43 of them were given asylum, mostly from Iraq (23) and Afghanistan (15).

Iraqis (890), Afghans (880), and Somalis (650) had the highest acceptance rates for asylum claims made within Denmark.

Asylum Procedure

The Danish Aliens Act governs asylum procedure. The Danish Immigration Services (DIS) makes first-instance decisions on asylum applications. Of the around 8,950 first-instance cases decided in 2002, the DIS had a 28 percent approval rate, a decrease from 53 percent in 2001.

Cases rejected in the first instance are automatically appealed to the Refugee Appeals Board, an independent body made up of representatives of the government and the Danish Bar and Law Society and chaired by a judge. Formerly, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) also sat on the appeals board, but new laws have eliminated their presence. Of the 3,100 cases, the Appeals Board granted over 130 individuals refugee status.

Sweeping changes in the law came into force on July 1, 2002 that affected asylum applicants who filed on or after that date. The new rules also disallowed asylum applications at Danish Embassies.

Other Forms of Protection

Under the old law, the DIS could grant "de facto refugee protection" to those who are not deemed to meet the definition of a refugee, but "ought not be required to return to their country of origin" for "reasons similar to those listed in the UN Refugee Convention or for other weighty reasons resulting in a well-founded fear of persecution or similar outrages." According to the Danish government, this provision was being applied too broadly, protecting, for example persons avoiding military service where the penalty for doing so would be more severe than in Denmark. DIS estimated that a majority of the 13,000 Bosnians granted this status in 1995 and 1996 qualified for such reasons, but acknowledged that many of them could have been refugees as well. As human rights groups noted, de facto refugee protection was also often the status granted persons fleeing gender- and sexual orientation-based persecution. Moreover, it also protected persons who, though they may no longer have had well-founded fear of future persecution (due, for example, to a change in government), were unwilling to return because of such severe past persecution as torture or rape.

De facto status allowed an individual to receive a one-year renewable residence permit and, after three years, to apply for a permanent residence permit. 1,690 persons were granted de facto refugee protection in 2002, including 300 of the 3,100 rejected asylum applications reviewed by the Appeals Board. Those granted the de facto status included Iraqis (660), Somalis (415), Afghans (146), Russians (79) and Yugoslavs (75).

The new law was designed to allow asylum only in cases where the government deems it is obliged to grant it under international conventions. Denmark will, for example, grant a "residence permit with protection status," to those asylum seekers who risk the death penalty or torture upon return to their countries of origin, as defined under the European Convention on Human Rights. Three persons, two Afghans and one Yugoslavian from Kosovo, were granted this status in 2002. This new "B" status, however, will not be available to refugees who no longer have a well-founded fear of persecution in their home countries but experienced severe past persecution. Danish officials have indicated that such persons could, however, receive "temporary protection," as did 457 Bosnians and Kosovars in 2002.

Although recipients of de facto refugee protection and temporary protection may not in all cases meet the definition of a refugee, many very well may. The UN Refugee Convention disallows application of the cessation clause to certain refugees who suffered past persecution where they have compelling reasons not to return. For much the same reason, the U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR) counts recipients of de facto refugee protection and temporary protection in Denmark among refugees and asylum seekers in need of protection.

The new law also allows persons to be granted temporary "residence permits for exceptional reasons." Persons who qualify may include, for example, unaccompanied minors or asylum seekers whose countries of origin will not accept them.

Those rejected in the appeals process may apply to the Ministry of the Interior for a residence permit on humanitarian grounds. Generally, if an asylum seeker applies for humanitarian status within the time limits for his or her departure, deportation is suspended until determination of the claim. Deportation may also be suspended for those who apply for a humanitarian review at a later time where exceptional reasons make it appropriate. Individuals whose cases are rejected as manifestly unfounded may also apply to the Ministry of the Interior for residence permits based on humanitarian grounds.

Accelerated Procedures and Restrictive Measures

The DIS may employ an accelerated procedure for applications they deem manifestly unfounded, such as for applicants coming from a country of origin the government deems safe. The DIS passes such applications to the DRC. If the DRC agrees, the applicant is denied without appeal. If the DRC does not agree, the application is processed under the normal procedure. The DRC opposed initial rulings in 16 percent of cases in 2002.

Under the new law, the accelerated procedure can be applied where the DIS finds the applicant not credible. Since 1995, Danish law has permitted the authorities to detain asylum seekers whose applications are placed in the accelerated procedure. The authorities may also refuse to admit asylum seekers at the borders without valid travel documents if they came from a country deemed safe.

Since Denmark is a party to the Dublin Convention, the authorities may detain asylum seekers at the border and, on the advice of the DIS, return them to another European Union (EU) country. Asylum seekers may appeal such decisions, but appeals do not suspend deportation. During the year, Denmark received around 2,500 requests to take back asylum seekers under the Dublin Convention, and made around 8,600 such requests to other parties. (See "Dublin Convention" box, p. 176.)

Asylum seekers who refuse identify their travel routes and identities may be denied their monthly cash allowance, and receive only packaged food every two weeks.

Danish authorities may detain asylum seekers who commit crimes (even minor crimes such as shoplifting), give incorrect information about their identities or nationalities, fail to appear for an interview with the police or the DIS, or if it is deemed necessary to ensure the return of the asylum seeker if his or her claim is rejected. There is no time limit on the detention of foreigners in Denmark, although a court must regularly review the detention order.

Other Changes to Immigration and Asylum Laws

Pursuant to a platform to reduce foreigners, including asylum seekers, from coming to Denmark, Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration Bertel Haarder in cooperation with the right-wing Danish People's Party, introduced some of the strictest laws in the world – sparking criticism from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), France, Belgium, and Sweden, who expressed "profound concern" over the legislation. Mona Sahlin, Sweden's minister for immigration, stated that the Danish government's policy was designed to "demonize refugees."

Refugees can only apply for permanent residence after seven years in Denmark, as opposed to the previous three, and applicants must not have committed a serious crime or have debt owing to the government to qualify. If country conditions from which the refugee fled are determined to be safe, the refugee may be returned before receiving a permanent residence permit.

Asylum seekers are also affected by the changes to the public assistance laws that require of all recipients, including citizens, residence in Denmark for seven out of the past eight years to qualify for full benefits. Those who do not meet this requirement receive only half of the regular amount of public assistance. In December, Haarder announced he would seek to further reduce the amount to asylum seekers by an additional 25 percent – more if they refuse to work in asylum centers. Denmark argues it is still more generous than other EU nations in its payment of welfare.

Persons will have a stamp in their refugee passports indicating that they are not allowed to visit their home country. If they do so, even with prior approval, they risk losing their residence in Denmark.

Family reunification has also been severely curtailed. Sponsorship of parents aged 60 or over has been discontinued. In order to sponsor a spouse from a non-EU country, both the applicant and the spouse must be 24 years of age (between 1997 and 1999, one-third of family reunions came from immigrants age 18–22). The law also applies equally to citizens who marry a foreign spouse. (Citizens, however, have the option to travel to another EU country, and return after six months with their spouses.)

In assessing sponsorship applications, if the authorities find that the couple's ties are closer to another country, sponsorship will be denied except in exceptional circumstances. If the marriage does not last at least seven years, the foreign spouse may be required to leave Denmark. In order to bring the spouse to Denmark, the sponsor must not have been received public assistance for one year prior to applying and must guarantee the application with $7,150 (50,000 DKr), have adequate housing, and be able to support the beneficiary. There is an exception for refugees who were married before their flight to Denmark. Asylum seekers are also prevented from marrying while their claims are pending since the law requires a residence permit to marry in Denmark.

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