The integration program in the municipality

When an asylum seeker is granted a residence permit (asylum, humanitarian residence or residence based on exceptional reasons), the Danish Immigration Service assigns the asylum seeker to a municipality where she/he has to live. The Danish Immigration Service selects the municipality based on a quota system, where a number of different factors are taken into consideration. Refugees and their families are required to take part in a 3-year integration program, which means that the municipality must provide a permanent residence/housing, access to language school, job center and activation. Within the first three years, a refugee is not allowed to move from the municipality assigned, unless another municipality is willing to take over the responsibilities or if the refugee can take care of herself/himself.    

Even when the refugee is still living at the asylum center, the contact person of the municipality is supposed to visit the refugee and arrange the details for moving and other practical details. The municipality is required to help with obtaining/getting the most necessary furniture, kitchen surplices/tools, etc. to the refugee’s new home but there are no guidelines for the amount of money to be provided. A study done by LG Insight has shown that the amount ranges from 3.000 to 85.000 in start-up aid for a family and the municipalities have called for guidelines. Read more about the LG Insight report and the problem here (in Danish). Many municipalities find it difficult to obtain suitable housing and therefore, the new refugees often live in temporary housing for long periods of time.

Unfortunately, the municipalities’ integration efforts vary greatly. Some municipalities are ambitious and experimental, while other municipalities are spending as few resources as possible. Common for almost all municipalities is that there are insufficient staff members to assist the refugees to start their new lives – and it takes too long before the refugees are able to begin learning Danish, starting an internship, pursuing an education, or getting a job. A committee chaired by Carsten Koch has in the spring of 2015 proposed 10 suggestions that can improve the integration program (see the suggestions for better integration programs, though in Danish).

The refugees and their spouses are entitled to cash benefits (kontanthjælp) as long as they have not found a job. In some cases, a municipality also pays cash benefits to refugees taking an education because it can be difficult for refugees to pay the rent of the assigned residence/housing with the lower study grant (SU). A municipality may also choose to give supplements for transportation, dental care and other special expenses. 

During the VK government (the Left and the Conservative People’s Party), refugees only had the right to start assistance (starthjælp), which approximately accounted for half of the cash benefits. This meant that a small group of refugees obtained a job faster, but a larger group of refugees, including families with children, got stuck in poverty and had a difficult time covering basic expenses for food, rent, and heating/electricity. In 2007, Amnesty International conducted a study of the start assistance (starthjælp).