The Serbian government has promised to step-up a campaign to squash false rumours that those who seek asylum in Denmark can expect a large economic payout when their applications are rejected. The announcement follows news of high numbers of fraudulent applicants from Serbia who are placing pressure on an already stretched asylum system.
According to Politiken newspaper, the vast majority of the applicants belong to the Roma minority – a group known for its relative poverty level – who are well aware that their applications will be immediately rejected as groundless. Despite this, many remain at least six months in Denmark while their subsequent application for humanitarian stay is processed by the Justice Ministry. During that time, they are granted free food, housing and health care in asylum centres.
According to the Serbian envoy to Denmark, Nenad Maricic, Serbians are also seeking asylum in Denmark under the false impression that they can claim money in order to return home.
In December, the Danish government chose to give adult asylum seekers 20,000 kroner, and children 10,000 kroner, if they agree to return home if their application fails. This incentive recognises that many asylum seekers sell many of their possessions in order to afford the expensive journey to Denmark.
Serbians are not entitled to this money, however, as their applications are almost always regarded as groundless and are therefore not processed like ordinary applications.
Maricic told Politiken that the Serbian government was going to introduce an information campaign to debunk myths about the possible financial gains that can be obtained through wrongfully filing for asylum.
“We are in almost daily contact with the Danish authorities in order to prevent future abuse of the asylum rules,” Maricic said, adding that the vast majority of applicants belong to Serbia’s Roma minority and are not facing systematic persecution but have incentives for asylum that are "primarily economic”.
The number of Serbian asylum applicants has been rising since Serbia was granted visa-free entry to the Schengen Area in 2009.
Serbians are now the fastest growing group of asylum applicants, according to Politiken. In the first two months of 2013, 235 Serbians applied for asylum. By contrast, only 179 asylum applicants were from war-torn Syria.
This is a reversal from the third quarter of 2012 – the latest available figures from Statistics Denmark – in which 154 Serbians and 275 Syrians applied for asylum.
But while just over half the Syrians were granted asylum, not a single Serbian was successful with their application.
Denmark is far from the only EU country to experience a sudden increase in unfounded asylum applications from Serbia. According to the Economist, asylum applications from Serbia rose from 9,860 in 2009 to 33,350 in the first ten months of 2012.
The rise in the number of groundless asylum cases is placing European asylum systems under even more stress. The conflicts in Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan has caused the number of asylum seekers in Denmark to rise from around 4,000 at the end of 2011, to around 6,000 at the end of 2012.
Serbia’s visa-free status is under threat as a result. Last October, six EU countries wrote a joint letter to the European Commission calling for a ‘safeguard’ to reintroduce visas for Serbian citizens if the number of unfounded asylum applications doesn’t drop.
Serbia is taking the threat to its visa-free status seriously and in October, Serbian President Ivica Dacic said that the country was prepared to reimburse EU states for the increased financial burden on European asylum systems.
Opposition parties in Denmark have condemned the government’s easing of immigration legislation, arguing that it would lead to a flood of applicants attracted by the favourable asylum conditions that allow failed asylum seekers to live and work outside asylum centres and receive a cash sum to leave the country.
Danish Refugee Council: The money is not the issue
But according to Eva Singer, the head of asylum at the Danish Refugee Council, the financial support given to asylum seekers to return home is not solely to blame for the high level of asylum cases from countries such as Serbia.
For example, Sweden has so far received 248 asylum applications from Serbians in the first two months of 2013, despite not promising any financial incentive for asylum seekers to return home.
Singer said that while she supported Serbia’s decision to introduce the information campaign, Serbia needed to do more to support the living conditions of its Roma population.
“First and foremost, improvements need to be made in Serbia,” Singer told public broadcaster DR. “Denmark and the EU have a good excuse during these negotiations to stress to the Serbian authorities that conditions need to be improved for this group of their population.”
According to Politiken, there are currently around 700 Serbian asylum seekers living in Danish asylum centres.