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FALQs: Danish and Swedish Response to the Current Refugee Crisis—Part II

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The following is a guest post by Elin Hofverberg. Elin is a foreign law research consultant who covers Scandinavian countries at the Law Library of Congress. Elin has previously written for In Custodia Legis on diverse topics including What’s in an Icelandic (Legal) Name?Glad Syttonde Mai! Celebration of the Bicentenary of the Norwegian ConstitutionHappy National Sami Day!, the bicentenary of Norway’s constitution, and a boarding school scandal in Sweden. This blog post is part of our Frequently Asked Legal Questions series.

This blog post follows yesterday’s post which focused on Danish and Swedish regulations that apply to eligibility for asylum; the types of residence permits that are available for refugees; and the regulations that apply to family unification as a ground for approval. This post explores the types of benefits to which refugees are entitled in accordance with existing law in Denmark and Sweden. It also provides a list of sources on the history of asylum in the Nordic countries.

1. Are immigrants entitled to financial assistance? 


Denmark has recently cut its financial assistance to immigrants, a move that was advertised in local papers in Lebanon. The move in itself has received considerable criticism but also been deemed as effective.

The current level of cash allowance for a family with two adults and two children living in government assigned housing is DKK 2,711.24 every two weeks (approximately USD 388 per month).


Sweden also provides cash allowances to asylum seekers at approximately USD 751 per month for a family of two adults and two children ages four to 10, if living in government assigned housing.

2. Are immigrants entitled to health and dental care?

Both Denmark and Sweden provide free health care to refugees.


In Denmark individuals awaiting a decision on their asylum application have the right to urgent health care and pain relieving health care.

Children who have sought asylum in Denmark have the same right to care as resident Danish children. This right is not extended to paperless children, i.e. children whose application for asylum has been refused.


Sweden has a special act that regulates health care for asylum seekers who have applied or have been granted asylum. (Lag om hälso- och sjukvård åt asylsökande m.fl. (Act on Health Care for Asylum Seekers et al) (Svensk Författningssamling (SFS) 2008:344).)

Both children seeking asylum and children without proper documentation have the right to health care and dental care at the same level as resident Swedish children. (Id. § 5 and Lag om hälso- och sjukvård till vissa utlänningar som vistas i Sverige utan nödvändiga tillstånd (SFS 2013:407) § 5 (Act on Health Care for Certain Aliens Who are Present in Sweden Without Necessary Papers).)

Asylum seekers and paperless immigrants 18 years of age and older have the right to urgent care, maternity care, abortions and family planning care. (Act on Health Care for Asylum Seekers et al § 6; Act on Health Care for Certain Aliens Who are Present in Sweden Without Necessary Papers § 7.) Local County Councils have the right to provide additional care for paperless immigrants. (Act on Health Care for Certain Aliens Who are Present in Sweden Without Necessary Papers § 8.) They also have the right to a general health assessment unless the local County Council finds that it is not necessary. (Id. § 10.)

3. What are the policies regarding schooling for immigrant children? 

Children of asylum seekers have the right to attend school both in Denmark and in Sweden.

In Denmark schooling may be conducted either at the asylum center or at a regular school.

In Sweden children who have sought asylum have the right to attend the local school between ages six and 18 or until they finish high school. The state compensates the municipality for the additional costs.

4. Are there any special rules for unaccompanied minors?

Both Denmark and Sweden have special rules for unaccompanied minors who seek refuge in their respective countries.

Danish law requires speedier review of the asylum case and special housing. Temporary residence permits are issued for four years at a time until the minor turns 18 after which he or she can apply for a permanent residence permit under the same rules as other adult asylum seekers.

Sweden also has special rules for unaccompanied children, including permanent residence permits, the appointment of a custodian, special housing, the right to go to school, etc.

Under Swedish law deportation of a minor requires that the Migrant Office has made sure that a family member, appointed custodian or a suitable arrival facility will take care of the child when arriving in his or her home country. (Swedish Aliens Act, ch. 12 § 3a.)

Sweden reportedly now has the greatest number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum within its borders. Between January and September of this year 14, 000 unaccompanied children have reportedly reached Sweden. During the week of October 11 to October 18 of this year, 2,441 unaccompanied children applied for asylum in Sweden, mostly from Afghanistan.

5. Domestic policies and EU responsibilities

Although Sweden and Denmark are both part of the EU and bound by its decisions, Denmark has opted out of home affairs and therefore has the right to regulate how many asylum seekers it takes in and need not agree to any relocation efforts. Denmark, thus, is not bound by the EU Council Decision to relocate some 120,000 refugees agreed to in September. (Council Decision (EU) 2015/… of … Establishing Provisional Measures in the area of International Protection for the Benefit of Italy and Greece.) The Danish government has, however, announced that it would take in 1,000 asylum seekers under the scheme.

Sweden is bound to take approximately 5,000, 19 of whom have already arrived. In addition, Sweden has agreed to take 1,900 United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) refugees in 2015 commonly known as quota refugees, while Denmark will accept approximately 500. Denmark has a flexible system, allowing them to receive 1,500 over a three year-period.

In an unexpected move on November 4, 2015, the Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven announced that Sweden had decided to ask the European Commission that instead of receiving asylum seekers under the September agreement, it would be allowed to redistribute asylum seekers from Sweden as the country increasingly struggled with finding housing for the approximately 10,000 asylum seekers it receives per week.

In response to Sweden’s request for redistribution, Denmark’s Minister for Integration Inger Støjberg responded by saying that Sweden had brought this situation onto itself with its generous policies and would therefore have to live with the consequences of them.

In an attempt to address the problem, the Swedish government on November 12 decided to temporarily reintroduce internal border controls, thereby forcing potential asylum seekers to either apply for asylum in Sweden or return to the EU member country from which they have arrived (in effect Denmark or Germany). Individuals traveling to Sweden by boat or train have been informed that they need to present identification to board the vessels. Government officials have expressed hope that the move would reduce the number of individuals seeking asylum in Sweden. The primary reason for the new policy, according to the Prime Minister Löfven, was to prevent Sweden from being a transit country and making the arrival in Sweden more orderly for those seeking asylum.

On November 13 the Danish government proposed new asylum rules which among other things will delay family reunification from one year residence to three years residence.  No final agreement has been reached. So far the government has gained support for 13 of its 34 proposals.

6. Repatriation policy

Both Denmark and Sweden sponsor programs for return of refugees to their home countries.

7. For further information

For the history of asylum in the Nordic countries, I recommend browsing through the Library’s collection which includes:

For Denmark:

For Sweden

Ingela Fridström, Ulrika Sandell, Ingrid Utne, Migrationsprocessen (2007);

If you want to read more about the refugee crisis in Europe, I recommend Theresa’s Global Legal Monitor articles on the redistribution of refugees and on the EU Turkey cooperation. Theresa has also recently blogged about the European Union’s Approach to the Current Refugee Crisis.

Comments (3)

  1. Just a small correction:

    1) Denmark

    The value given (2711,24 kr) is per 2 weeks, meaning that in a 30 day month its 5809,9 kr, or at todays dollar value $832,35

    In this program, besides government housing, is free meals.

  2. Elin’s response:

    Thank you for your comment and clarification! As you rightly point out, DKK 2.771 every two weeks makes approx. DKK 5810/month (30 days) or USD 829 with today’s currency conversion using the currency converter.
    T‎his is the minimum amount that is provided to a family covered under the food allowance program, living at an asylum center where food is not provided free of charge to residents. ‎
    There are also asylum centers which offer food to their residents free of charge. Families that live in asylum centers where food is served at no expense to the residents receive a reduction in their cash allowance to reflect the benefit of receiving free food.
    As an example, the cash allowance received as a caregiver allowance per child per day for the first two children, in the initial phase of the asylum application period, is DKK 63.06 if the family lives at an asylum center that does not provide free food. It is only 9.02, however, if the family lives at an asylum center where they receive food at no extra expense.‎‎‎
    Again, thank you for your comment!

  3. A small correction to the above correction –
    There are no “free meals” in Denmark for refugees unless they are housed in various asylum seekers (in which case, they are most likely not considered refugees at all, or any longer). There is a monthly amount allocated by the rules put in place by the current highly political government. From that, housing assistance is provided and called either temporary or permanent (a misnomer – because the rules are constantly changing and, unless a refugee has become a citizen, all residence situations are merely temporary). The monthly allotment depends on the number of people in the family unit and is capped at an amount deemed appropriate for a family of two adults and two children – a significant burden for people who are forced to flee their homelands and who already have more than two children – and have yet to learn the tricks necessary to save money in an expensive country). From this monthly allocation, an amount is drawn to pay for housing and the balance is available to pay for expenses, including food and excluding specific educational programs that are run by or subsidized by the government.
    This information is current as of August 2017 and applies only to those who have been provided with a residence permit. Those among the over 6000 asylum applicants do not receive this assistance, and, depending on the country attributed to being their country of origin, can expect very different outcomes regarding their acceptance and permission to remain (recognition as refugees or in need of protection) or their rejection.

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