How many are coming, and from where?

Current numbers

During 2023, a total of 2,482 new applications for asylum were registered in Denmark, whereof a slightly lower number were accepted for processing. But a large part of them already had another kind of residence permit ('remote registrations'), so in fact the number of newcomers was far less.

In 2022 the total number of new cases was 4,591, but only 1,007 were processed. Almost half were Ukrainians whereof many have later dropped the application, and around one hundred were evacuated Afghans. Another quarter of the applicants were 'remote registrations'. Furthermore, a certain share are always transferred to other European countries under the Dublin rules. All in all, a quite small number of people actually arrive in Denmark and have their claim for asylum assessed. Somewhat surprising when considering that 25,000 new applicants arrive in Germany every month these days.

During the last two years, 900 permits under the Special Act for Afghans and 42,000 under the Special Act for Ukrainians have been granted. At least 270 evacuated Afghans have left the country afterwards as they were welcomed in UK or the US.

Most of the 42,000 Ukrainians who were granted a stay under the Special Act have not been accommodated in the asylum system, but stayed in private homes or directly in the municipalities. But around 600 have been rejected under the Special Act, and 750 Ukrainian asylum cases are pending (but they have been on hold since the war started and the processing has only begun recently).

Today there are 14 asylum camps in total; but the number was as high as 98 in 2015. There are around 2,500 people accommodated in the asylum camps, out of these 550 are staying in one of the deportation camps, and 750 are Ukrainians passing quickly through the system.

In general, the amount of asylum seekers arriving in Europe declined after 2016, as a consequence of the EU-Turkey deal and the increased control of EUs external borders, but has risen again – however, new arrivals in Denmark are still very few. The total number of new applications in the EU was high in 2023: over 1 million, and on top of this comes over 4 million from Ukraine. Germany alone registered 329,000 new asylum applications in 2023. 

NUMBER OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN DENMARK 2002-2022 (gross numbers)

Usually the gross number is used, though it includes people who will never have their case processed in Denmark, and will only stay a short time in the country, after Dublin negotiations etc. Read more under The Dublin regulation. If all gross numbers for European countries are added together, the number will be much higher than that actual number.

Another important fact is that one in every three applicants already had a residence permit, usually via family reunification from Syria or Eritrea (the remotely registered), which has made a significant impact on numbers over the last 6 years.

Around 25% of the asylum seekers are children under 18 years, and some of them are unaccompanied minors. In 2023, 227 unaccompanied minors came, almost half of them Afghans. Some of the unaccompanied come from Morocco, but they are all rejected. The same young boys occur in statistics in several countries as they are not transferred according to the Dublin rules.

Development over time

In the light of the massive focus on refugees and the constant discussion about returning them, it might come as a surprise to many, that refugees only made up 1% of all foreigners who were granted residence permit in Denmark over many years. For instance, the municipalities only received 489 new refugees in 2020. People with asylum as their basis for residence only makes up for 1,9% of the population.

During the last 7-8 years, Denmark has seen some major changes in the arrival of asylum seekers: The number peaked at the end of 2015 with 21,000 new arrivals – but dropped overnight to a very low level where it still is. Lately the system has been dominated by evacuated Afghans and displaced Ukrainians.

The number of new applications has been historically low in recent years. In 2020, the border closures due to Covid-19 almost put a total stop to arrivals: only 1,515 new applications were filed in total (gross number), which is the lowest number ever registered. In 2018 for instance the number was 3,500.

Adding to this, Denmark has since 2015 not accepted the 500 resettlement refugees per year from UN which we did through 38 years. During the last 7 years, only 235 quota refugees have arrived in total, coming from refugee camps in Rwanda.

The "refugee crisis" 2014-16

The rise that Denmark experienced 2014-2016 was even higher in other parts of Europe, and it was mainly due to new and less dangerous access routes opening up via the Greek islands and then through the Balkan countries. In 2015 more than 1 mio refugees came to Europe, which was twice as much as the year before. Both the outer and the inner border controls were intensified, and the number of new arrivals decreased all over Europe, but has risen again.

The all time record in Denmark was October 2015 when 3,694 new applications were filed in one month.

In total, 80,000 people got a residence permit in Denmark in 2016, but only one out of nine was a refugee. The others got permits because of work, studies or family reunification.

Where do they come from?

The profile of the applicants has changed somewhat during the last 10 years, which affects the number of positive decisions, including the new phenomenon 'remotely registered' which accounts for a large part of the applications in Denmark.

The balance in nationalities applying for asylum in Denmark has changed quite a lot from 2015 to 2023. From 2013-2020, Syrians have made up the largest part, but over the years Afghans have often been number one. In 2014, Eritreans was suddenly number two on the list, dropping to number eight in 2016, and in 2019 rising again to a shared first place with Syria – this is, however, due to the 'remotely registered'.


In 2023, top 5 nationalities were, apart from Ukraine: Syria, Afghanistan, Eritrea, Russia, Iran. Afghanistan was on top of the list in 2021 due to the evacuees. After 2015, fewer have come from the "classic" refugee countries, and more from a number of new countries – and fewer people from each country.


Main routes to Denmark

Almost everybody who arrives in Denmark to ask for asylum will come illegally – with a smuggler or false papers. It's virtually impossible to get a visa to Europe if you come from countries like Syria, Eritrea or Afghanistan.

The number of asylum seekers in Europe has dropped significantly due to border controls around and inside Europe after 2016, but has risen again since 2021. In Denmark, new arrivals dropped even more and have not risen since.

There are still many small boats sailing from Turkey to Greece each month, but relatively more arrive via Libya and Tunesia. It is a much more dangerous route, and many die in the desert of Sahara and drown in the Mediterranean. Increase in patrols and criminalisation of rescue efforts has led to a higher percentage of drowned.

The instability and violence in Libya has led to European actors increasingly collaborating with several armed groups in Libyan on border control and the containment of migrants in camps, before they can travel across the Mediterranean. This has made the situation for migrants in Libya even more dangerous. More are therefore attempting to travel over lesser known routes, such as Egypt and Tunisia to Italy.

UNHCR has an interactive homepage where you can see the current numbers of arrivals and drowned.

The pattern and number of arrivals change every year, but Italy, Greece and Spain are the main arrival points, in that order. In total, 288,000 people arrived in 2023 to EUs external borders.

Arriving at the border of Europe means new obstacles – violent border patrols and illegal push backs have become increasingly normal. In Greece and Italy it's almost impossible to survive as a refugee, and many end up in destitution on the streets. The Dublin regulation is also a challenge. All the way through Europe fences and control posts have been put up, making it very difficult to reach as far as Scandinavia. Thousands are stuck in Lesbos and Bosnia under inhuman conditions.

Read a personal story of a journey in 2014 from Eritrea to Denmark: The road to freedom goes through Hell.

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