Denmark allowed refugees to move freely through its territory to Sweden after days of chaos when authorities closed ferry services and a motorway link with Germany in an attempt to stem an inflow of thousands of asylum seekers.
Denmark, whose government took out adverts in Lebanese newspapers to discourage migrants, emerged as the latest front in Europe’s worst refugee crisis in decades as 3,200 people entered since Sunday, most trying to get to Sweden.
Sweden expects to receive 80,000 refugees this year and has more asylum seekers per capita than any other European nation thanks to a generous immigration policy allowing automatic permanent residency for Syrians.
Allowing the resumption of traffic on ferries and the motorway, Danish police said they had no power to detain refugees.
That means that thousands will now travel on to Sweden to seek asylum.
“There are no other possibilities than to let them go free, and consequently we cannot keep them from travelling where they will,” National Police Commissioner Jens Henrik Hojbjerg said.
Centre right Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen held talks with political leaders in a second emergency meeting this week but did not announce concrete action.
“Germany, Denmark and Sweden are in an extraordinary situation and in that situation it is our task to live up to our international obligations,” Rasmussen said afterwards.
“I don’t think anyone, at least not me or the party leaders, as I have heard it, wants Danish police to use force in a very violent way,” he said.
In Stockholm, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said EU rules under which refugees should be registered in the country where they first arrive must be upheld and the decision to send refugees on to Sweden was “unfortunate”.
When not temporarily detained, the refugees marched or took trains to Copenhagen, which is a 35-minute ride from Malmo in Sweden across the Oresund Bridge.
Sweden’s Migration Agency said 686 people had applied for asylum in Malmo since Sunday and more that 13,700 had arrived in the country in the past five weeks.
Both countries have a generous welfare system but Denmark has recently tightened immigration and citizenship rules, including cutting benefits for refugees by up to half in a bid to discourage them from staying here.
Sweden stands out in the Nordics as the exception.
Denmark’s tough refugee policy mirrors similar trends in Finland and Norway where right-wing anti-immigrant parties are on the ascendant and part of coalition governments.
Finland’s centre-right government proposed increasing some taxes to help cover the costs of migrants coming into the country.
The Danish People’s Party (DF), once on the political fringe, became the second largest parliamentary force after June’s election, gaining popularity largely due to its anti-immigration and eurosceptic rhetoric.
Rasmussen’s minority government depends on the party’s support in parliament although his response to the crisis this week has not been anywhere near as strong as the DF would like.
“We are a country based on law and order,” DF leader Kristian Thulesen Dahl told reporters.
“Citizens of other countries must also be able to see that when they decide whether to use Denmark as a transit country in this asylum shopping which is going on ... We need control.”
Refugees have been streaming in by two routes from Germany, crossing by train overland into Jutland or by ferries carrying trains that arrive in Lolland, an island linked by bridges to Zealand, where Copenhagen is located.
Meanwhile, a record-breaking influx of refugees could help ease Germany’s skills shortage and companies should start training programmes for asylum-seekers to speed up integration, Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said.
With the number of deaths outstripping births, Berlin estimates the working-age population in Germany will shrink by 6 million people by 2030 and some companies say they are already struggling to fill vacancies.
Gabriel, who is Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy, described the expected arrival of an estimated 800,000 asylum-seekers by the end of 2015 “the biggest national, European challenge” since German reunification.
He told the Bundestag (lower house of parliament) that it was important to integrate them quickly to ensure they became a benefit for Europe’s largest economy.
His comments came Syria’s information minister said as Europe should bear full responsibility for the flood of refugees streaming into the continent.,
Omran al-Zoubi, in a rare comment from Damascus, said the migrants are mostly fleeing from areas held by rivals of President Bashar Assad’s government, including the Islamic State group.
European countries, “which sent terrorists” to Syria and imposed economic sanctions on the Syrian people, must take responsibility for their anti-Syria policies, he told state media.