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1. What rights do homeless migrants have in Denmark?

Homeless migrants without registration in Denmark (personal registration number or foreign national number) do not have access to any governmental help. There are certain rights but it depends on the color of your passport. Kompasset basically has two types of clients: EU-citizens and non-EU-citizens. EU-citizens have the right of free movement and residence throughout the Union. This means EU-citizens can live and work in Denmark for up to three months on the basis of a valid identity card or passport. For more than three months EU-citizens must have sufficient means not to become a burden to the social assistance system. They must be actively job-seeking and can stay more than 6 months if they have a chance to obtain a job in DK based on their qualifications. Job-seeking EU-citizens are entitled to treatment equal to that received by nationals as regards access to employment, e.g. they have the right to ‘job center’ service and assistance. The non-EU citizens are in a different situation since most of them have a temporary or permanent residency in one of the Southern European EU-countries and are able to travel freely within EU for a designated time period as a tourist. They may not work and must have means to support themselves while here in DK.  

2. Who are the homeless migrants?

A homeless migrant is a person without stable, permanent housing, who sleeps in the streets, on a bench, in the park or deserted school yard, on the staircases of apartment buildings, basements etc. or spends the night in a shelter. The homeless migrants are younger men who have not experienced homelessness before in his/her home country. Unemployment, bad economy or extreme poverty has forced the migrant to seek a better, often unknown life abroad. You can often not tell by looking at a homeless migrant that he is homeless. He is well-dressed, healthy and ready to work.

3. Are they illegal?

The vast majority of homeless migrants initially come to Denmark in the search for a job and better living conditions. 66 percent of the homeless migrants that seek help and advice at Kompasset are EU-citizens. EU-citizens have the right of free movement within the EU. They are allowed to stay in Denmark as tourists for three months, provided they carry a valid passport or national ID card. Hereafter they can stay for more than 6 months if they are actively seeking a job, provided there is a realistic chance of employment. For this period they are not allowed to become an “unreasonable burden” to the social welfare system. However, unlike many misunderstandings, a person is not “illegal” merely because he or she uses the social welfare system by for instance sleeping at a homeless shelter. 29 percent of the advice seekers in Kompasset are third country nationals with a residence permit in another EU-country. They are allowed to stay in Denmark for three months, provided that they have the means to support themselves whilst in the country. 4 percent of the advice seekers in Kompasset are third country nationals without a residence permit in another EU country. From which a small number can be categorized as undocumented migrants. Some have come to the EU with tourist visas which they have “overstayed” and are now surviving by collecting bottles in the streets and public parks of Copenhagen.

4. How do the homeless migrants survive?

There are different survival tactics. A few arrive with savings they can live off for some time. Some collect bottles or valuables that can be resold. They get by with the money they make. Others work for money under the table at restaurants, cleaning or construction companies. Then there are homeless migrants who have no money at all and get basic needs covered at the private homeless services. It is possible to eat and shower for free in Copenhagen but clean clothes and rest is tough to come by since there’s only one night shelter available to homeless migrants without registration in DK – this place has room for 33 persons per night which leaves many to seek cover in parks, deserted buildings or school yards.

5. Why are they homeless?

As some would believe, it’s because they have made a bad choice in their life. On the contrary instead, often the homeless migrants are in such an unfortunate situation because of the difficulties they meet in finding a job. It is not rare that a highly qualified foreigner is forced to work unskilled job or cannot even find that job. They left their home, network and family out of desperation and rarely arrive to DK with much or any money. Copenhagen is expensive and without means a bench or park is a liable ‘home’.  

6. What does Kompasset do and why is it important?

Kompasset provides information and advice about creating a better life in Denmark. What are the opportunities and impossibilities? We give realistic advice and give a lot of discomforting information. Based on our advice the clients must decide their further steps – should they stay or should the travel on? Many have difficulties navigating in the Danish society, especially regarding accessing employment and health services and this frustration accelerates their social downfall. Kompasset’s main objective is to create better lives for people in need with guidance, support and comfort.

7. Why don’t they just go home to where they came from?

Many have nothing to return to or cannot return empty-handed. Awaiting relatives and friends are expecting better fortune from the returned. The homeless migrants often come from extreme poverty, unemployment and misfortune.  

8. How many homeless migrants are living in the streets of Denmark?

It is impossible to know exactly how many homeless migrants live in the streets in Denmark (esp Copenhagen). Throughout the years various estimates have been made, but nobody knows the exact numbers. The vast majority of homeless migrants are currently banned from using most of the publicly funded homeless services throughout the country with the consequence that homeless migrants remain underrepresented in the national homeless survey conducted by SFI (the Danish National Centre for Social Research). Private humanitarian organizations working with this group of citizens have made estimates that on any given day it is a matter of a few hundreds homeless migrants living in the streets of Copenhagen. However many homeless migrants are in a permanent state of flux, migrating within and between countries in the EU in search for a better life. Therefore these numbers are rough estimates needing to be researched further.

9. Who helps destitute migrants in Denmark?

For the time being only a few privately funded humanitarian organizations open their doors to destitute homeless migrants without registration. However the need is much higher than the capacity of these places. Despite various efforts by a number of organizations trying to make the government assume their responsibility for the structural problems concerning the destitute migrants living on the streets of Denmark no changes have been made.

10. Why don’t the homeless migrants just seek help at the municipality or public homeless services?

Homeless migrants are currently banned from using most of the publicly funded homeless services throughout the country. The state has granted funding for emergency shelters during the coldest winter months through the so-called “nødpulje”. However this funding is far from sufficient as it doesn’t respond to the urgent need of help and support that many homeless migrants have.

11. Why “the Danish dream” – why do they come to Denmark?

Unlike many common assumptions the vast majority of homeless migrants come to Denmark in search for a job, not as “welfare tourists” hoping to gain access to Danish welfare benefits. Unregistered homeless migrants rarely have access to Danish welfare benefits. Many flee unemployment, homelessness and social exclusion in their home countries, whilst others are travelling to the north from often Spain and Italy, in search for a job due to high unemployment rates in southern Europe as a result of the financial crisis.