Mattias Tesfaye said that “whenever possible, it is only natural for refugees to travel back to their homeland. I am glad that we can give people protection while it is needed. But I’m also happy every time a refugee can return home.”
The figures released by the Immigration Ministry showed that the main groups of people who left last year were Somalis, Syrians, Iraqis and Bosnians, while people from Eritrea, Iran and Afghanistan sought shelter in the country.
Eva Singer of the Danish Refugee Council, a nongovernmental organization, said the drop should not be attributed to Danish immigration policy but to the fact that fewer people have been able to reach Denmark, in part because of Turkey closing its border to the European Union.
Denmark in recent times has grabbed international attention for its strict stand toward immigrants. The current Social Democratic minority government has taken a softer, albeit tough stance than the previous center-right government that had the parliamentary support of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party.
Across Europe, the surge of over 1 million refugees and economic migrants that arrived in 2015 prompted a populist backlash that gave a huge boost to anti-migrant parties and drained votes from mainstream parties, particularly left-wing parties with welcoming migration policies.
Many newcomers from Africa, Asia and the Mideast headed to wealthy nations in northern Europe with generous taxpayer-supported welfare systems.
Thousands transited via Denmark to reach neighboring Sweden, which took in 163,000 migrants that year alone — the largest number per capita of anywhere in Europe.