While migration numbers are rising sharply in Germany, other EU states have already put the brakes on and reversed the trend. For example, the numbers in Denmark, our northern neighbor, are at an all-time low. In the first five months of 2023, 1,048 asylum applications were registered in Denmark. In Germany there were 125,566 initial applications plus 10,395 follow-up applications by the end of May. Even though Denmark is 15 times smaller than Germany in terms of population and has a much smaller land border, the difference is striking.
Another example is Austria: According to government figures, the number of asylum seekers there fell by 30 percent in the first half of 2023 compared to the same period last year. Overall, fewer asylum seekers came to Austria in the first six months than left the country. There is talk of around 23,000 compared to 28,000. This doesn’t work in Germany yet. What is going on differently in neighboring countries?
Denmark: Social Democrat with a tough course
Denmark’s head of government and leader of the Social Democrats, Mette Frederiksen, has pushed through a tough course. This includes, for example, that a maximum of 30 percent of “non-Western” migrants are allowed to live in so-called hotspot districts, where the education rate is low but the unemployment and crime rates are high. The aim of the Danish Social Democrats is to promote integration and prevent parallel societies through better mixing. To achieve this, the government will, if necessary, have people forcibly relocated.
In addition, rejected asylum seekers have to stay in “return centers” as long as deportation is not possible due to the security situation in their home country, although the assessment of where it is safe and where it is not is fundamentally different from the German one: regions of Syria are considered safe Nobody in Germany is currently claiming this. The Social Democrats have also supported the controversial “jewelry law” since 2016. This means assets can be confiscated from asylum seekers at the border to cover costs.
Criticism from experts
The Danish government has concluded an agreement with Kosovo to put migrants who have committed criminal offenses in Denmark in prison. After serving their sentences, they should then be deported directly to their home countries. The Kosovo prison serves primarily as a deterrent. The same is true of the law passed by the Danish Parliament in 2021, which creates the legal basis to outsource the entire asylum process to a third country in the future. Asylum seekers should preferably be brought to an African country, await their asylum procedure there and, if the decision is positive, be allowed to live and work in that country. However, the plan is not currently being implemented. It might still be intimidating.
However, there is also a lot of criticism of the Danish model and its possible transferability to Germany. Migration expert Raphael Bossong from the Science and Politics Foundation (SWP) said: “The idea that people will stop coming if you just make it a little more uncomfortable for them here is too simple.”
Austria: Fast asylum procedures and border controls
The strategy in Vienna looks different, but also seems to be working in the government’s interests. According to its own statements, it relies on rapid asylum procedures, border controls at home and abroad, combating smuggling crime, increased deportations, the use of innovative technology in border protection and international cooperation.
In Austria, rapid procedures are increasingly being carried out, which must be completed within 28 days. There are also urgent procedures that must reach a result within 72 hours. For comparison: In Germany there are a few expedited procedures in arrival centers, but the average procedure duration in 2022 was 7.8 months.
Around 130 Austrian police officers are deployed in Serbia, Hungary and North Macedonia to strengthen border protection. In addition, Austria’s border control measures with its neighbors Hungary and Slovenia were extended. To make the work of the Austrian border guards easier, the units are equipped with night vision and thermal imaging cameras. In addition, a drone system with 300 units is used. For comparison: Germany only had two drones in use for border protection in 2021. The Austrian border guard has recently started using so-called heartbeat sensors to check trucks.
Vienna is a trick: numbers should be treated with caution
Vienna puts diplomatic pressure on countries that allow smugglers to do their part. Specifically, the Austrian Interior Ministry mentions the end of visa freedom for people from India and Tunisia in Serbia and the return agreements with India and Morocco. Last year, 19,500 irregular migrants came to Austria from India via Serbia, mostly without a visa. In cooperation with the EU Commission, the Serbian government was put under pressure with economic and political sanctions. With success: Serbia adjusted its entry regulations for countries such as India and Tunisia.
However, the figures published by the Austrian Ministry of the Interior should be treated with caution. The government of Chancellor Karl Nehammer, who belongs to the conservative ÖVP, is under massive pressure from the right-wing FPÖ, which is making gains in the polls, similar to the AfD in Germany. The government in Vienna is therefore doing everything it can to signal that it is “taking action”, especially in migration policy. The official figures provided by Statistics Austria speak a slightly different language. After that, the number of asylum grants in Austria will also increase in 2023 for the third year in a row and is estimated to be 16,100. This is the highest value since the refugee crisis that Austria had to overcome in 2015/2016.