‘Where should I get that money from?’

Refugees receiving integration payment will effectively be hindered in reuniting with their families

In January, the parliament enacted a number of restrictions, including one stating that refugees can no longer apply to have the state cover the costs of flight tickets, when they get permission for reunification with their spouses and children in Denmark. On top of the cost of the actual flight, they must also pay a charge of 1,435 kroner per person to the Danish Embassy. As refugees are already subsisting on an absolute minimum income, some will no longer be able to have their families join them here, even though they have the correct permissions. 

1,800 kroner to live on

Ismael is from Sudan and was granted asylum 2 months ago, after a fifteen-month long wait for his case to be processed. As soon as he was granted asylum, he applied for family reunification for his wife and three young children (photo), who are still in Sudan, and are in danger due to his political problems. He fled to Libya almost three years ago and his youngest child wasn’t even born at the time. The children are now 2, 4 and 5 years old. 

“I feel as though I’ve lost my children. I don’t know what I’m to do – I wasn’t at all prepared for this situation. I’ve always worked as a civil engineer and earned good money but now I’m in a situation where I can’t raise the 20,000 kroner to get my family to safety. The only thing I think about every day is when am I going to get permission for family reunification. It can still take many months and I hope that I can find a way to raise the money. But I only have 1,800 kroner left each month, once rent, heating and electricity have been paid. And it’s hard to get a job in Denmark, when I’ve only just begun learning Danish.” 

New arrivals have no financial means

It is typically newly arrived refugees who seek to get their partners and children to Denmark. The new integration payment is so low, that they can just about pay for their food and telephone, so there isn’t anything left to save up. It is only an absolute minority of refugees that have financial means with them when they arrive – and even if they do, after the new legal restrictions they will have to use them to pay for their stay at the asylum centers. A single resident at an asylum center gets 1,967 kroner a month, which has to cover food, transport, telephone etc, so it is impossible to save up during the asylum period. Asylum seekers are not allowed to work for the first 6 months and receive very limited Danish lessons. 

Newly arrived refugees have no possibility to loan money. Banks won’t give either a loan or credit to people living on benefits and with a disposable income of under 2,000 kroner per month. 

90 days to raise 27,000 kroner

In Ringsted, Habte from Eritrea is waiting to get his wife and children to Denmark – just like Ismael. He has already gotten the permission processed in record time but it’s only valid for 90 days. He has five children, and the total price for the flights and charges is ca. 27,000 kroner. His family has already left Eritrea and now lives in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. They’ve been there for 20 months.

“I borrowed a large sum from my family to get to Europe and to get my wife and children out of the country. All in all, it’s cost me 50,000 kroner. Now, I have no earthly clue as to how I should raise the next sum so quickly. It’s dreadful for me to be here, and think about how things are for my wife and children in the refugee camp”.

Many refugees must also try to find money to cover the cost of their stay in a neighbouring country with Danish diplomatic representation, while they wait to have their applications processed. At the moment, family reunification for a refugee takes ca. 10 – 13 months, but some end up waiting even longer. 

Children must raise the money for their parents’ tickets themselves

The possibility for financial support to cover the costs of flights, which adult refugees have now lost, has never been available for children. When unaccompanied minor refugees get asylum in Denmark, they can apply for permission for their parents and any siblings under the age of 18 to join them – but here, the state has never offered support to cover the costs of flights and charges, most likely because they have been overlooked in terms of the law. 

In December, the newspaper ‘Information’ told the story of 7 year old Maia from Syria, who came here with her uncle and had to wait 20 months before she could see her parents again. When the permission finally came through after the many months of processing, private friends of the family had to raise the money needed to pay for flight tickets to get the family to Denmark. 

Frederiksberg Municipality takes in a proportion of the unaccompanied minor refugees and has covered the costs for charges, flight tickets, translation of documents etc. for several Syrian refugee children. They did this as they deemed it necessary in order to live up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but not all municipalities are of the same opinion. 

In March, the municipality will receive a 15 year old boy from Eritrea, whose mother and two younger siblings are still in their homeland. He has the right to apply for family reunification with them immediately, even though he will start living with a Danish foster family. However, it’s not so easy to get out of a country with closed borders: it requires payment to smugglers and it’s dangerous. The municipality can obviously not cover the costs of leaving the country illegally, and, legal issues aside, the cost can also be considerable. It is therefore not just the new legal restrictions that will hinder reunification, and it may well prove impossible to get the boy’s family here to Denmark.

A significant obstacle for family life

In its hearing statement to the changes in the law concerning the removal of state support to transport, the Danish Refugee Council warned that this would create a significant obstacle to family reunification – to which refugees have an international right – as the amount required will often be so great, that the refugee resident here in Denmark will have no chance to acquire such a sum. It also notes that unaccompanied minors were also not entitled to support under the previous system, and that this has already given rise to a number of cases where parents and siblings could only be brought to Denmark due to private donations. 

Minister for Integration, Inger Støjberg, stated to Jyllands Posten on the 21st of January that the state would neither give financial support nor offer loans. The Minister said that she, “actually thinks it’s ok that this is something you have to save up for” and adds, “We must also expect, that there will be private organizations who can go in and loan them money”.