How many are coming, and from where?

In the light of the massive focus on refugees among media and politicians, it might come as a surprise to many, that refugees only made up 3 % of all foreigners who were granted residence permit in Denmark in 2017.

During the first 10 months in 2018, 2,900 persons have applied for asylum, and of these 2.000 have had the case accepted to be handled in Denmark. 1,300 were granted asylum. Only 2-300 people arrive per month, and this number has been quite stable since spring 2016, dropping a little. Also, Denmark has since 2015 not accepted the 500 resettlement refugees from the UNHCR that we normally receive every year. 

In 2017, 3,479 persons applied for asylum in Denmark, and 2,390 cases were opened. It was the lowest number in 9 years, and a steep fall compared to the previous years. The sudden change was mainly caused by the border control introduced by Sweden in two steps across 2015-16. Read more about the reasons why fewer refugees are coming to Denmark

The percentage of people who are granted asylum has been changing a lot: from 85% in 2015 to 36% in 2017, including a periode of only 28% – now it is up to 58% in 2018, but this is including people who already had another residence permit, see more below. For new arrivals, the recognition rate is only 35%. Read more under 'What are the chances of being granted asylum?'

The profile of the applicants has also changed a lot during recent years (see more about this below), which has an impact on the number of positive decisions, and a quite new phenomenon is almost one in five who applied for asylum already had a residence permit‚ most often on grounds of family reunification.

There are however still 4,000 people accommodated in the asylum camps. In January, 19% of these had pending asylum cases with Immigration Service, 51% with Refugee Appeals Board and 16% were in deportation phase (rejected). Many camps have been closed down, and there are only 17 camps left now.

The sudden decrease in new arrivals happened when Sweden made Denmark control all travellers at Kastrup train station, and introduced passport control on the bridge and at Hyllie station. It is surprising that the numbers have not risen after Sweden stopped the ID control at Copenhagen airport in May 2017. Since then, it has been easier to seek asylum in Sweden again, as the control does not catch everybody. There are around 2,000 new arrivals in Sweden per month now, which is also very low compared to previous years.

NEW ASYLUM APPLICATIONS IN DENMARK 2009-2017 (gross and registration numbers)


Media and politicians usually refer to gross numbers, though they include people who will never have their case processed in Denmark, and will only stay a short time in the country. Read more under The Dublin regulation.  In 2016, a very confusing thing happened: the number of cases that should be assessed in Denmark was higher than the gross number – this was due to the fact that a large amount of people arrived at the end of 2016 and had their case opened in the following year. The pattern of 2014 and 2017 was more typical.


NUMBER OF ASYLUM SEEKERS IN DENMARK 2002-2017 (gross numbers)


The rise that Denmark experienced 2014-2016 was actually much 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 Balkan countries. In 2015 more than 1 mio refugees came to Europe, which is twice as much as the year before. Both the outer and the inner border controls were intensified, and the number of new arrivals has decreased all over Europe since then, but the drop was more significant in Sweden and Denmark.

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

In 2016, 6,235 applications for asylum were submitted (the gross number). 12,710 cases were opened (registration number) – this number is higher than the gross number because many entered during the end of 2015 and did not get their case considered until 2016. 7,400 were granted asylum in 2016. Normally the registration number will be lower than the gross number, as a considerable part are sent back to other countries under the Dublin regulation, and therefore will not have their case decided in Denmark.

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

Who is seeking asylum in Denmark?

The balance in nationalities applying for asylum in Denmark has changed quite a lot from 2015 to 2018. Since 2013, Syrians have made up the largest part, but over the summer of 2016 Afghans outnumbered them. In 2014, Eritrean was suddenly No 2 on the list, dropping to No 8 in 2016, but recently Eritreans have entered the first place in 2018 – this is, however, mainly due to the spouses who have been granted family reunification and apply for asylum afterwards. In the fall of 2015 we saw a sudden and short rise in the number of Iranians.

In 2018, the top 3 nationalities of new arrivals are: Syria, Georgia, Morocco. Then comes Iran, and all of 55% belong to the group "others", as they are very few, coming from many diffrent countries. Afghanistan has been high on then list for many years, but has now dropped to No. 8. The pattern at this time is fewer from the "classic" refugee countries, more from a number of other countries – and fewer people from each country. A larger part fall under the procedure Manifestly Unfounded, among them applicants from Georgia.

41% of the asylum seekers in 2016 were children under 18 years. The percentage of unaccompanied minors was rising since autumn 2015, but has dropped again. In 2018 only 7% of the asylum seekers were unaccompanied minors. The fact that Morocco was suddenly high on the list in 2017 is due to many of the unaccompanied coming from there, but they are all rejected.



Main routes to Denmark

One of the reasons why there are now relatively more migrants arrive from Africa and fewer from the Middle East is the introduction of several border control operations in the Aegean, police actions against smugglers in Turkish coastal regions and the construction of a 800 km long concrete wall in the area between Suruc and Kobane.

Although, on average, between 2,000 and 4,000 boat migrants still sail from Turkey to Greece each month, compared to 2015 and 2015 this still means that relatively more arrivals from especially West Africa and Sub Sahara come via Libya. However, there are also some Syrians, who travel through Libya and cross the sea to Italy. It is a much more dangerous route, how many die in the desert of Sahara and drown in the Mediterranean.

Surprisingly, the amount of new arrivals in Spain in 2018 is now higher than the numbers for Italy and Greece. Compared to last year, the numbers look like this: Spain 53,000 = increase 150%. Italy 22,000 = decrease 80%. Greece 27,000 = increase 15%.

The instability and violence in Libya means that the decade-long tradition of African and Asian labor migration to the country has been destabilized, and many no longer dare to stay there for work. At the same time, European actors increasingly collaborate with Libyan authorities and with several decentralized militias on border control and the containment of migrants in camps, before they can travel across the Mediterranean. This has made the situation of migrants in Libya even more dangerous. Several have therefore attempted to travel over lesser known routes, such as Egypt and Tunisia to Italy, but these have also resulted in massive drowning tragedies.

Those who succeed in coming to Europe meet new obstacles. Those trying to travel from Italy, across Austria, and north towards Germany and Scandinavia, are now being stopped at the Brenner Pass, the Alpine border between Italy and Austria. Since August 2017 about 1,000 migrants are stopped and returned every month by Austrian military, while Italian police have also upgraded the control of passenger ships to the north. In the fall of 2017, a few hundred also tried to sail to the Mangalia harbor in Romania via the old and dangerous route over the Black Sea.

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