As an asylum seeker, one has little choice about where one lives. Asylum seekers have to stay in an asylum center, Immigration Service decides which one, and they can be moved from one center to another center with only short notice. Most asylum seekers will end up having stayed in many different centers.
The number of asylum centers fluctuates constantly, depending on how many asylum seekers are arriving in Denmark. This leads to a great deal of relocations of asylum seekers and a constantly changing team of staff members. There is a big difference between the centers, both in terms of the residents, the physical conditions, and the ways the residents are dealt with by state authorities.
The Danish Red Cross runs about half of the centers and different municipalities are running the others centers. The Danish Prison and Probation Service runs the Departure Center Sjælsmark, Kærshovedgaard and the Ellebæk and Vridsløselille prisons. The majorities of the centers are accommodation centers with 100 to 600 residents but some centers have a special function and are more permanent centers. Center Sandholm is an arrival center, Center Sjælsmark is a departure center, Thyregod is a center for special care, and a number of centers only accommodates unaccompanied minors. The Danish Immigration Service pays for the operation of the centers and decides where an asylum seeker must stay. See the list of asylum centers in Denmark.
The majority of the asylum centers are very isolated, usually constructed out of abolished military barracks, training camps or sanatoriums. There is also a tendency that more centers are placed in Jutland and in thinly populated areas. This atmosphere creates a great deal of frustration among the asylum seekers who do not receive adequate allowance to leave the centers. Because of the centers’ isolated locations, asylum seekers have a hard time meeting any Danish citizens, getting in touch with their family members, obtaining counseling with regard to their asylum case, and in general keeping themselves occupied. Fortunately, local Danes visit the asylum centers and offer company or activities to asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are free to come and go at will, but some centers have security control at the entrance for visitors – i.e. a visitor must be invited by a resident of the center to enter.
Most asylum seekers are single and they share a room with 3-4 other singles of same sex. Kitchens and bathrooms are located in the hallway and are often shared with 20 other residents. Families with children have two rooms and in a few centers a kitchen and a bathroom are included. Some centers, such as Sandholm, Samsø, and Sjælsmark, have a cafeteria for the residents who have to eat the food provided by the cafeteria three times a day. Most asylum seekers are frustrated about this practice and it can be particularly difficult for young children.
Asylum seekers have mandatory duties in the centers, such as cleaning of common areas. To some extent, an asylum seeker has access to language education in Danish or English and can apply for an internship if she/he is in Phase 2. Yet, in general it is difficult to find engaging activities and asylum seekers’ concerns about the future represent a constant struggle of their daily lives. It can also be difficult to live closely with people with different cultures and languages, and the majority of residents in asylum centers have traumas and problems to deal with. However, helpfulness and tolerance are usually more common than clashes and conflicts.
Read more in our article about the conflicting goals of the asylum centers.