Asylum seekers eating up development aid

Housing asylum seekers who have been permitted to live and work outside asylum centres has proved costly

Despite Danish development aid rising to a record 16 billion kroner this year, an increasing amount is being spent on helping asylum seekers here in Denmark.

Foreign Ministry calculations showed that costs to operate the asylum system this year will exceed one billion kroner, or 6.6 percent of the total amount dedicated to development aid. In comparison, just 1.7 percent of development aid was used to help asylum seekers in 2008. The increasing costs come as the same time as Denmark has seen an influx of refugees from countries like Syria, Somalia and Afghanistan.

Karsten Lauritzen (Venstre), a member of parliament’s foreign affairs committee criticised the government for spending the increased aid funding on housing asylum seekers.

“It’s fair that the government wants to help the poor of the world, but the increased aid will most likely be devoured by the rising numbers of asylum seekers,” Lauritzen told Kristeligt-Dagblad newspaper.

Lauritzen referred to a Foreign Ministry which indicated that 6,000 asylum seekers are expected to make their way to Denmark over the course of 2013. But according to more recent figures from the justice ministry, that number is more likely to be around 7,000, the highest number in 12 years.

“The increase is down to Denmark becoming a more attractive destination for asylum seekers. We in Venstre believe that the government should curtail the changes to the asylum area and in the long term, Denmark should concentrate on providing more help to the poorest refugees in the communities,” Lauritzen said.

The development minister, Christian Friis Bach (Radikale), admitted that the growing numbers of asylum seekers has influenced the development aid.

”It is worrying that the expenses for refugees in Denmark is rising and it is a development we are monitoring closely,” Bach told Kristeligt-Dagblad. “We have a fundamental principal that we should care for our refugees, wherever they live and the costs have jumped because of the conflict in Syria and the continuing tumultuous situations in Afghanistan and Somalia.”

Bach also pointed to the additional expenses to house certain asylum seekers who, due to a law change earlier this year, were permitted to live and work outside asylum centres. He also added that precautions have been taken so that the rising number of asylum seekers won’t affect the development aid.

But funds for the asylum system are being diverted from foreign development programmes, such as climate projects and business development.

Vagn Bertelsen, the secretary general of aid organisation Ibis, felt it was unreasonable that aid for developing countries was being siphoned off to aid asylum seekers.

”Ibis and several other organisations have protested against the asylum costs coming from the development aid budget, since we don’t believe that the two areas are connected,” Bertelsen told Kristeligt-Dagblad.

He said the practice was part of a trend in Western countries, but expected the OECD to issue new guidelines that could discourage the practice.

Bach argued that his ministry was simply following international guidelines. 

Just last week, Immigration officials decided that the situation in Somalia had improved to the point where asylum seekers from that country would not automatically be granted refugee status. The justice minister, Morten Bødskov (Socialdemokraterne), said the decision meant Somalis who were denied refugee status could be forcibly repatriated if they refused to return voluntarily.




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