A. Executive Summary
The Nordic countries comprise Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. These countries are currently among the wealthiest countries in the world. They are small and open economies and are, therefore, export-dependent countries. International trade is an integral part of their economic activity.
The Nordic countries have attracted immigrants because of their social insurance system and refugee policy. However, immigration policies in the area have varied over time. In the 1970s, along with increasing development aid, the countries pursued humanitarian refuge policies. Their welfare systems were built on ethnocultural homogeneity. However, immigration has increased ethnocultural diversity, and since the late 1980s and 1990s, there has been a progressive restriction of immigration, refugee, and integration policies.
Emigration from these countries is mainly motivated by the search for employment opportunities as a result of the emigrants’ level of qualification, better salaries, and better education.
In 2021, Denmark’s GDP was 397,104,343.48 USD, with an annual growth rate of 4.7%. Foreign Investment (FDI) net inflows in 2020 represented 0.4% of the country’s GDP. The inflation rate in 2021 was 1.9%.
In the same year, Sweden’s GDP amounted to 627,437,898.89 USD, with an annual growth rate of 4.8%. Foreign investment (FDI) net inflows in 2020 represented 3.4% of the country’s GDP. The inflation rate in 2021 was 2.7%.
Norway’s GDP was 482,437,019.79 USD, with an annual growth rate of 3.9%. Foreign Investment (FDI) net inflows in 2020 represented -1.1% of the country’s GDP. The inflation rate in 2021 was 3.9%.
Finland’s GDP amounted to 299,155,237.59 USD, with an annual growth rate of 3.5%. Foreign Investment (FDI) net inflows in 2020 represented -0.9% of the country’s GDP. The inflation rate in 2021 was 2.1%.
Iceland’s GDP totalled 25,458,933.92 USD, with an annual growth rate of 3.7%. Foreign Investment (FDI) net inflows in 2020 represented -4.1% of the country’s GDP. The inflation rate in 2021 was 3.7%.
B. Country Profile
I. Basic Information
The Nordic countries are located in the north of Europe and include Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. These countries are united by strong economic and cultural ties, a shared history, values, and social models. Together, these five countries have a population of 27,657,945 and cover an area of 1,319,999 km2. However, each of these countries has its own distinct identity. Denmark’s official language is Danish; Sweden’s is Swedish; Norway’s is Norwegian; Finland’s official languages are Finnish and Swedish; and Iceland’s official language is Icelandic. Although all these countries are part of the European Economic Area, not all belong to the European Union, namely Iceland and Norway.
The predominant religion in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland is Evangelical Lutheranism. However, in Norway and Denmark, there are other religious communities. In Norway, Catholicism is the country’s second-largest religion after Islam. In Denmark, Catholicism is also the second-largest religion, followed by Judaism.
II. International and Internal Migration
In 2021, there were 839,831 immigrants living in Denmark. Female immigration was higher (50.56%) than male immigration (49.43%). Immigrants came mainly from Romania (11.63%), Poland (7.21%), Germany (5.20%), Italy (5.02%) and Turkey (4.52%), and are concentrated in the age group of 20-49. Immigration from other Nordic countries (Finland, Norway, and Sweden) and some EU country like Germany is due to academic reasons. Polish and Romanian immigration is mainly labour migration. Turkish immigration to Denmark is largely considered labour migration, even though it is also due to family reunification. Finally, migrants from Syria are fleeing political and economic instability. Denmark’s migrant integration policies are focused on employment, language courses, civic education, and competence assessment. However, the Danish system is relatively restrictive regarding family reunification and the conditions for obtaining permanent residency.
In 2021, a total of 90,631 registered immigrants arrived in Sweden. Male immigration was higher (51.83%) than female (48.17%). Immigrants came mainly from India (3.90%), Iraq (9.56%), Poland (6.56%), and Iran (5.36%). The main reasons for immigration are family reunification, labour, and studies. An open immigration policy has characterised Sweden. Economic migrants have easy access to the labour market, and the system facilitates them bringing their parents to the country. Sweden also has an open integration policy: the country spends part of its budget on labour market programmes, interpreters, vocational education, civic orientation courses, and language training. However, despite these efforts, a successful integration of the entire immigrant population is still lacking, leading to an increase in marginalisation of certain groups as well as violent episodes on the country’s streets.
At the beginning of 2022, there were 819,356 immigrants in Norway. Immigrants are mainly from Poland (12.9%), Lithuania (5.13%), Sweden (4.38%), Syria (4.2%), and Somalia (3.43%). Since 1995, immigration reasons have fallen into four categories: work, family, asylum, and education. In general, internal migration is closely linked to family ties (separations, widowhood, births, etc.). Intergenerational proximity is the predominant factor, exceeding socioeconomic factors, with 4/10 having moved to the city closest to their place of origin.
In 2021 there were over 380,000 immigrants (6.93% of the population), mainly from Estonia (19.82%), Sweden (13.96%), Iraq (6%), Russia (5.93%), and Somalia (4.82%), in Finland. That year, 21,782 of the migrants (32.3% of whom were between 25 and 34 years old) arrived from Europe (56% males, 44% females), especially from Sweden (2,714), the United Kingdom (1,234), Ukraine (1,463), and Poland (541). According to the Social Progress Index 2021, Finland ranks second in the world for its high quality of life, a formidable reason to migrate there. Finally, Turkish and Iraqi migration to Finland peaked in 2019 (237.5% and 255.4% more entrances than in 2015), Syrian migration (612%) in 2017, and Ukrainian migration (197.4%) in 2021.
Lastly, in 2021, a total of 10,944 registered immigrants arrived in Iceland. Male immigration (52.57%) was higher than female immigration (47.42%). Immigrants came mainly from Poland (34.71%), Denmark (8.54%), the United States (5.47%), Sweden (5.01%), and Lithuania (4.76%). The primary age group is 20-29 years old. The main factors attracting immigration, especially from Poland, are related to Iceland’s economic development and the need for more workers, mainly in the construction and fishing industries. The integration policy provides the immigrant population with more secure basic rights and supports equal opportunities. However, the immigrant population also faces obstacles, especially related to family reunification, since they have to fulfil income requirements and because they must wait four years and prove their financial resources in order to acquire permanent residency.
III. Emigration and Skilled Migration
In 2021, Denmark registered 42,757 emigrants. The main destination countries were Germany (8.57%), Sweden (7.30%), Norway (6.37%), the US (5.29%), and Poland (4.93%). Female emigration was higher (52.78%) than male emigration (47.21%). Most of the emigrant population was in the 20-25 age group. The main reasons for Danish emigration were the search for better education, career advancement, and quality of life.
In 2021, Sweden registered 48,284 emigrants. The primary destinations were Denmark (11.42%), the United Kingdom (11.15%), Norway (10.58%), Germany (8.73%), and Finland (7.82%). Male emigration was higher (50.34%) than female emigration (49.66%). It is important to note that of those who emigrated, 16,975 were born in Sweden, and 31,309 were born abroad. This indicates that most of the population who migrated were people who came to Sweden as immigrants, many of whom eventually became emigrant populations that could return to their country of origin.
In Norway, emigration has generally remained below 30,000 people per year, although in 2015, a record 37,474 emigrants was registered. In 2021, the figure was 34,297. The statistics for 2021 show that Norwegians move mainly to Denmark, Sweden, the UK, and the US. The reasons for emigrating are still a blind spot for Norwegian demographers. However, most emigrants were immigrants before and left after reaching a target income or feeling incapable of doing so.
In 2021, 76% of the 13,459 emigrants from Finland moved to other European countries, 8.77% to the Americas (69.7% of which to the US), 9.7% to Asia, and 1.63% to Africa. Among all emigrants, 50.2% were women, and 31% were between the ages of 25 and 34 years old. Most Finnish emigrants are highly educated and move abroad because of poor or few job opportunities and prospects in Finland. Nonetheless, many of them return to the country a few years later.
In 2021, the number of emigrants from Iceland was 7,994. The primary destination countries were Norway (21.59%), Denmark (21.23%), Sweden (15.17%), the United States (14.72%) and the United Kingdom (6.12%). Female emigration (50.73%) was higher than male (49.26%), and most of the emigrant population was in the 20-29 age group. The main factor explaining this migration flow is the labour market: A current trend in the Icelandic population is looking for jobs related to one’s educational level (industrial, technical or university) in other countries because the Icelandic labour market does not have corresponding jobs. Indeed, employment growth in the country has been mainly in the hospitality sector.
IV. Forced Migrants (Internally Displaced Persons, Asylum Seekers, Refugees, and Climate Displaced People)
In 2021, Denmark recorded 36,023 refugees and 1,519 asylum applicants. A total of 55.15% were men, while 44.85% were women. The major countries of origin were Syria (59.53%), Eritrea (17.56%), Iran (8.43%), and Afghanistan (5.12%). Denmark also implemented several measures to curb the influx of refugees after the refugee crisis in 2015 in an effort to receive ‘zero asylum seekers.’ In this regard, Denmark has not accepted the annual quota of 500 refugees and has agreed to receive only 200. In 2019, the Paradigm Shift Act came into force. Its main objective is to send refugees back to their place of origin as soon as conditions allow. These measures have a negative impact on refugees in the long term because they create uncertainty and constant fear of losing refugee status.
In 2021, Sweden registered 240,854 refugees and 13,954 asylum seekers. A total of 61.39% of refugees were men, while 38.60% were women. Refugees to Norway came mainly from Syria (52.60%), Afghanistan (12.58%), Eritrea (12.06%), Iraq (4.86%), and Somalia (4.71%). The leading causes of these forced displacements were conflicts and wars in the countries of origin. After the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015-2016, Sweden adopted a more restrictive policy, with a subsequent decrease in the number of asylum seekers. Some 300,000 asylum applications have been rejected in recent years, and many applicants have returned to their countries of origin. Others, however, decided to remain in Sweden in an irregular situation. Irregular migrants lack protection and social welfare and work in low-paying industries (such as hospitality or construction).
From January until August 2022, Norway registered 27,971 asylum applicants, 9,589 of whom were living in reception centres. The countries with the highest number of applicants were Ukraine (25,539), Syria (681), Afghanistan (296), Eritrea (223), and Russia (189). Unaccompanied minors numbered 181 in 2021 (mainly from Afghanistan and Syria), while in August 2022, the number rose to 713, of which 436 were from Ukraine. The refugee population in Norway has rarely exceeded 10,000 individuals, with two notable peaks in 1999 and 2015.
In 2015, Finland, adjudicated on more than 8,800 asylum applications. Only 24.7% were resolved positively. Those most frequently denied were non-EU citizens, followed by unaccompanied minors. The applicants came from Iraq, Somalia, Albania, Afghanistan, and Syria. It is noteworthy that 43.4% of the requests expired. In 2016, there was a peak of requests, especially from Iraq (57.3%), Afghanistan (18.6%), Somalia (5.51%), and Syria (4.35%). The rate of denial, expiration, and dismission was 72.2%. By 2019, it had decreased to 60%, with Russia in the lead (75%). In 2022, only 12.4% of the requests have been from unaccompanied minors, most applications from citizens of Ukraine have expired, and very few (less than 5%) have been approved.
In 2021, Iceland registered 1,830 refugees and 306 asylum seekers. The central countries of origin were Venezuela (23.44%), Iraq (17.16%), Syria (10.66%), Afghanistan (9.78%), and Palestine (7.27%). Since 2007, Iceland’s policy has been to receive a quota of 25-30 resettled refugees. The grounds for resettlement include: legal or physical protection needs; refugees victims of violence and torture requiring special medical attention; women at risk facing serious physical and psychological threats; and refugees with no prospect of local integration in the first country of asylum. The year-long resettlement programme provides comprehensive support, including social services and support for children in the education system. Iceland is the only European country where it is impossible to apply directly for asylum, so it is necessary to pass through another Schengen country. This means asylum seekers can return to the Schengen country of origin. For this reason, in 2019, 173 asylum seekers were returned to other European countries.
V. Victims of Human Trafficking
According to the US Department of State, regarding human trafficking, Denmark and Norway are considered Tier 2 countries, while Sweden, Finland, and Iceland are Tier 1. Tier 1 countries have governments that fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000’s minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. Tier 2 countries are those whose governments do not fully satisfy the minimum standards but are making significant efforts to comply with them. From 2014 to 2022, 21 pieces of legislation were amended or created in Europe, and an average of 14,500 victims per year were identified.
Denmark received important recommendations. The country still has to develop clear procedures for identifying child victims, coach relevant workers to be conscious of indicators, and strengthen efforts to protect unaccompanied children from going missing from reception centres by developing a specialised framework for their assistance. NGOs expressed concerns about how immigration policies can increase the risk of trafficking among asylum-seekers. Reports also indicated that victims without EU citizenship or residency permits were more vulnerable throughout the pandemic due to lockdowns and border closures.
Norway, for its part, has made efforts to prosecute and convict more traffickers and to make them pay compensation. There is also a new law for more accountability and transparency among companies in the country, requiring them to pay attention to human rights and labour conditions at all stages of their supply chains. Nonetheless, the government has not reported an official number of identified/assisted victims for five years.
The Swedish government demonstrated sustained efforts during the first part of 2022 on its capacity towards eliminating trafficking. Nevertheless, NGOs have said that national police need further training on the identification of potential victims and the subsequent implementation of protection measures. Due to the inflow of Ukrainian refugees, the government established protocols to screen potential victims on public transportation and created a manual for border police, including how to recognise trafficking indicators and potential victims, as well as providing information on temporary residency and victim assistance.
Finland’s efforts against human trafficking include investigating more cases, convicting more traffickers, and hiring 13 new labour inspectors to focus on monitoring forced labour. The National Bureau of Investigation operationalised a dedicated human trafficking and illegal immigration intelligence unit, and the country approved a new three-year national action plan (NAP).
During the reporting period, Iceland’s government amended Article 227a of the criminal code to describe additional forced labour acts as forms of trafficking, aligning with the international definition of trafficking. Labour trafficking is still the most significant concern in Iceland, especially with the most vulnerable workers in the construction, tourism, and restaurant industries, as well as domestic service. Nonetheless, labour unions reported fewer migrant workers due to COVID-19.
VI. National Legal Framework
Denmark does not adhere to EU rules and has refused to participate in a voluntary sharing agreement within the EU. However, it is part of the Schengen and Dublin agreements. This system stipulates that an asylum seeker can only apply for asylum in the country where the fingerprints were first submitted. In 2021, Denmark passed the Danish Aliens Act which allows the transfer of asylum seekers to a third country outside the EU for the purpose of both adjudication of asylum claims and accommodation. The legislation provides that transfers must take place under an international agreement between Denmark and the third country and that asylum seekers must be transferred unless it violates Denmark’s international obligations. , This policy aims to achieve a ‘zero refugee’ entry. In this respect, a “jewellery law” was also approved by the Danish parliament in January 2016., This law gives Danish authorities the power to search for and confiscate cash, jewellery, and other valuables over and above 10,000 kroner – approximately 1,340 euros – from arriving migrants, allegedly to pay for their reception and stay. However, although it is still a valid part of the Danish Aliens Act, it is difficult for the authorities to verify the amount of assets that an asylum seeker possesses. For this reason, the “jewellery law” has rarely been used since its enactment.
Sweden adopted the Aliens Act in 2005. A temporary law replaced this legislation in 2016, in which refugees do not automatically have a permanent residence permit. Instead, they receive a 3-year permit. Beneficiaries of subsidiary protection receive a 13-month permit. Furthermore, the subsidiary protection was restricted to asylum seekers who live in socially and economically disadvantaged areas and neighbourhoods. In June 2021, this law was replaced by permanent amendments to the Aliens Act, and a bill was passed with substantial changes to Swedish immigration policy.
Norway’s legal framework is based on the Common European Asylum System, the ‘Returns Directive,’ and the Dublin and Eurodac Regulations, which allocate responsibility in asylum applications within the European Economic Area (excluding Denmark) and implement a fingerprinting database for the applicants. In addition, Norway follows the Asylum Procedures Directive, the Qualification Directive, the Reception Conditions Directive, and the Temporary Protection Directive.
Finland follows the Geneva Refugee Convention and promotes needed migration to offset its ageing population. The country mostly follows the EU Qualification Directive (2011/95/EU) and the Government Program stated that the number of quota refugees would be increased to a minimum of 850 in 2020. In 2022, it has committed to accepting 1,500 quota refugees because of the situation in Afghanistan.
Through the Aliens Act of 2016, Iceland aims to ensure the humane and effective handling of matters relating to aliens by its authorities. Iceland is also party to the Nordic Convention and the Dublin Regulation, whereby it can return asylum seekers to the countries where they have submitted an asylum application previously. Since 2007, the country’s policy has been to welcome a certain quota of refugees each year. In 2020, the quota was 85 refugees.
VII. Main Actors
In the Nordic countries, there are various agencies and public institutions in charge of developing, organising, coordinating, implementing, monitoring, and testing national, regional, and European measures, as well as guaranteeing accountability on issues related to migration and asylum.
Denmark has the Danish Immigration Service (which is part of the Ministry of Immigration and Integration), the Council for Ethnic Minorities (under the Ministry of Social Affairs and Elderly Affairs), and the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration, which works on processes of skilled immigration.
In Sweden, the Migrationsverket (Swedish Migration Agency) is the authority that considers applications from people who want to settle in the country, visit it, seek protection, or become Swedish citizens. The agency works hand in hand with the Ministry of Immigration and Integration and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (which reports to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
In Norway, the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration processes applications from foreigners who want to visit or live in the country, as well as guarding reception centres and expulsion cases. It works with other agencies, such as the Directorate for Children, Youth, and Family Affairs, the Labour and Welfare Service, the National Security Authority, the Agency for Development Cooperation, and the Sami Parliament of Norway.
In the case of Finland, the Finnish Immigration Service deals with issues related to the entry, resideny, and registration of foreigners in the country, in addition to the citizenship and status of refugees. The Service also produces information for the relevant authorities and international organisations and coordinates with the Finnish Border Guard, the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the Non-Discrimination Ombudsman, and the administrative courts.
Finally, Iceland builds and directs its migration policy through the Directorate of Immigration (under the Ministry of Justice) and the Icelandic International Development Agency (under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).
The five Nordic countries have organisations that work mainly on the issues of refugees, asylum, and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). At various levels, these organisations are responsible for ensuring respect for human rights in situations of conflict and captivity, the integration of migrants in the host country, family reunification, legal advice, access to essential services, and education for children, as well as providing humanitarian items, healthcare, shelter, funds, psychological support, etc.
The Red Cross is among the most important of these organisations. In the case of Sweden, it is the largest humanitarian volunteer organisation in the country, with 722 local branches and about 25,000 volunteers. Moreover, the International Organization for Migration (IOM or UN Migration) provides protection and assistance services to people on the move, combats human trafficking and smuggling, and supports the reintegration of returnees. Likewise, the IOM helps national and local governments to enable a favourable migrant protection and management atmosphere. Finally, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) monitors the countries’ adherence to international refugee law standards and receiving conditions.
NGOs and Other Organisations
The five countries have the presence of the Organization for Refuge, Asylum, and Migration through different local agencies: in Sweden, the FARR (Flyktinggruppernas Riksråd: Swedish Network of Asylum and Refugee Support Groups): in Denmark via the Danish Institute for Human Rights; in Norway, the NOAS (Norwegian Organization for Asylum Seekers); in Finland, the Finnish Refugee Advice Centre; and in Iceland through the Icelandic Human Rights Centre. In addition, the ENOMW (European Network of Migrant Women) is present in all five countries, encompassing more than 50 member organisations in over 20 countries. Also present in the Nordic countries are: the ECRE (European Council on Refugees and Exiles), counting, over 100 organisations in 39 countries; and the Techfugees initiative, which is an international network (with chapters in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) that gathers tech workers, researchers, and social entrepreneurs who are dedicated to working and sharing learnings on tech solutions to the necessities of displaced persons.
On a national level, the Danish Refugee Council (especially relevant in the case of Syria) has worked closely with the World Food Program and the UNHCR since 1956. Key organisations in Sweden include War Child Sweden (which is committed to the resilience and welfare of children from violent and armed conflict contexts) and the Malmö Centre for Refugee Solidarity (that makes rights abuses visible through monitoring, documentation and advocacy, and ensures the rights of refugees in the region are respected and upheld). Likewise, in Norway the work of the Norwegian Refugee Council is noteworthy: founded in 1946, it created the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of Geneva in 1998. In Finland, considerable activity is undertaken by the Finnish KEPA (Service Centre for Development Cooperation), as well as the Finnish Refugee Council, which serves as the official communication liaison partner of the UNHCR in the country, and the Island Panorama Centre, which works to build a tolerant, non-racial, non-prejudiced, and non-discriminative Finnish society with social justice and equality for all.
The Catholic Church
The Nordic Bishops’ Conference is the body for cooperation between the Northern European countries of Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Iceland. This Bishops’ Conference represents these five countries in which the Catholic Church is considered a minority. The issue of migration has been on the agenda of various churches in Europe for several years. The Nordic Bishops’ Conference and other international and European institutions are involved in debates in the various social and ecclesial fields to promote respect for human rights. There is a particular focus on the dignity of the human person, created in the image and likeness of God. The aim is to engage both public opinion and politicians. The Bishops’ Conference has close relations with the International Catholic Migration Commission and other European Catholic networks that are active in the field of migrant pastoral care. The Bishop of Stockholm is currently the Head of the Migrations Section of the CCEE Commission for Social Pastoral Care, dealing with migration issues in the European continent (the other commissions of the CCEE focus on Evangelisation, Family, and Youth). The last meeting of the migration section of the social pastoral commission was held in April 2021. On many occasions, the Bishop of Stockholm has invited everyone to consider migrants and refugees as a providential sign of God.
Caritas is present in the five Nordic countries. An essential part of its work is oriented towards the migrant and refugee populations. In Denmark, the organisation supports various refugee and integration projects, where volunteers organise social activities with refugee families and young people.
In the case of Sweden, Caritas has been working very hard since the migration wave of 2015, when a group of volunteers carried out Caritas social activities in the parish of St. Andrew in the city of Hässleholm. Their work focused on providing shelter, food and clothing appropriate to the climate for people arriving in search of refuge. However, as Swedish migration policy became stricter, this work became more complex. To continue meeting the demands of migrants and refugees, the group joined the activities provided by other denominations. The Catholic, Pentecostal, and Lutheran churches joined forces, resulting in the ecumenical project called “Hand in hand – The Church’s Integration Café.”
In Norway, the resource centres for immigrants in Oslo, Bergen, Stavanger, Drammen, and Trondheim are worth mentioning. In these centres, staff and volunteers provide immigrants with information and guidance on their options and rights in the Norwegian labour market, temporary and permanent housing, employment, job vacancies, and legal and health advice.
In Finland, the Church also offers counselling for migrants and parishes to promote integration.