The journey to Denmark – routes, risk and cost

Most asylum seekers travel to Denmark on their own and ask for asylum. This group of people is called spontaneous asylum seekers as opposed to quota refugees. You can read more about different refugee statuses, and about How many are coming, and from where at the moment.

Most asylum seekers come from countries where the European Union requires people to hold a visa in order to enter the Schengen area. It is very difficult to obtain a visa if you come from a so-called ‘asylum-producing’ country. Furthermore, many asylum seekers do not even have a passport and cannot legally leave their country. Since 2002, a person has not been allowed to seek asylum via a Danish embassy. In the 1980s, Denmark was one of the first countries to impose a large fine on airline companies if persons onboard an aircraft arriving in Denmark did not have a valid passport or visa. European countries have since followed. As a result, airline companies now carry out border control on behalf of EU states.   

In practice, the only access to Denmark is often ‘illegal’ entry – either with fake documents or no documents. Nearly always, such entry requires assistance from human smugglers who charge a hefty price. For example, the journey from Eritrea to Denmark with help from human smugglers typically costs 45.000 DKr and the journey from Syria to Denmark can cost up to 100.000 DKr. 

Human smugglers operate in groups and carry people a certain portion of the total journey. Then, migrants will often have to find a new smuggler who can assist with the next part of the journey. Migrants are viewed by smugglers as goods and are often treated inhumanely as a result. Often, families are separated during the journey. Many migrants lose their savings and personal documents and possessions and are exposed to violence and rape along the way. A large number of migrants die during their journeys – the most known death is the many drowning accidents in the Mediterranean Sea, but an unknown number of migrants have died in Sahara and the Sinai desert, and in remote mountainous regions, containers, trucks, and warehouses due to hunger, thirst, and disease.    

It is a paradox that it is a human right to seek asylum (and the majority of those who arrive are ultimately granted asylum), but that one cannot claim this right without breaking the law and exposing oneself to extreme danger. Often the few migrants who arrive with a valid passport and visa and thereafter seek asylum will have a hard time obtaining asylum because they have left their country of origin legally. Often, the visa to Denmark is perceived as a misuse and can further trigger the quarantine of the person who has invited the migrant to Denmark.

Currently, the main routes to Europe are either the Mediterranean Sea – through Morocco to Spain, through Libya and Egypt to Italy, through Turkey to Greece – or overland from through Turkey to Bulgaria. Additionally, a smaller number of migrants arrive from Russia, Armenia and China through Eastern Europe. During the sping of 2016 the so-called Balkan route was gradually closed down, and later a deal between EU and Turkey was made about returning refugees from Greece. The deal has caused more than 50,000 to be stranded in Greece from where they can't leave.

The number of people who drowned in the Mediterranean Sea was at least 5,000 in 2016, and in 2017 the chance of surviving has dimished further: one out of 49 ends up dead on the way. The number can, in fact, be much higher, as not all deaths are registered.

A report from IOM shows that 363,348 refugees and migrants made the journey alive. Most of them arrived in Italy (181,436) and Greece (173,561). So far, 140,000 have arrived in 2017.

Many of the migrants seeking asylum in Denmark have been en route for more than one year before they arrived in Denmark. It is quite common to be stranded for a few months in places along the journey, such as Tripoli, Istanbul, or Athens. Some of those seeking asylum in Denmark did not have Denmark as their goal of final destination but have been stopped by Danish authorities in the airport or on the train as they were trying to reach other countries like Sweden, Norway or the UK. Because of the Dublin Regulation, they must have their case processed in Denmark.