Assistance to refugees in the Nordic countries

All the Nordic countries have established a social safety net, and some measures for the integration of refugees have been implemented. However, the rules vary considerably from one country to another.

Considering refugees

The five Nordic states have all acceded to the Geneva Convention on the Right to Political Asylum/Refugee Status for people who, for reasons of race, nationality, political views, or special social affiliation, are persecuted in their home countries. Refugees may also be granted residence permits in the Nordic countries on humanitarian grounds. In addition, in all the Nordic countries, people who are granted asylum may also be granted residence permits for their close relatives, for the purpose of reunifying families.

At present, most of the asylum-seekers or refugees received in the Nordic countries are people who arrive at the borders applying for asylum. The statistics include those from this group whose applications for asylum have been approved, as well as conventional refugees.


Asylum-seekers receive board and lodging at an asylum centre, plus pocket money during their stay. The local authorities handle integration activities in relation to newly arrived refugees and other foreigners, who are obliged to participate in a three-year integration programme comprising courses in the Danish language and society, as well as a range of active measures aimed at preparing for working life.

Foreigners covered by the integration programme are entitled to cash assistance. The national government reimburses 50 per cent of the local authorities’ expenditure on cash assistance during the three-year integration programme and provides supplements that help to cover the local authorities’ expenditure.

Faroe Islands

The Danish Aliens Act provides the framework for refugee policy. The Danish immigration authorities, in co-operation with the Faroese authorities, make decisions regarding asylum and residence permits in the Faroe Islands. However, such cases are very rare. Until recently, there had been gaps of years between applications for asylum or residence permits on humanitarian grounds.


Asylum-seekers must be accommodated in a refugee centre. During the application process, the applicants’ basic needs are met e.g., accommodation, financial social assistance and health services. Interpreting services, and legal aid, as well as courses, may also be provided in connection with the application procedure. After three months, applicants are entitled to work outside of the centre. Asylum-seekers may also try to find their own accommodation, in which case no financial assistance is provided.

Asylum-seekers receive less financial social assistance than those resident in the country, as they are provided with services in the centre. Financial social assistance is exempt from tax. If an asylum-seeker needs a language course, the amount payable may be reduced by 20 per cent. Asylum-seekers are not insured in the event of absence due to sickness, nor are they entitled to child supplements or housing benefits. The national government covers part of the local authorities’ expenditure, and may reimburse expenditure on e.g., interpreting services.


Refugees are granted financial social assistance from the moment they are received into the country. The national government covers the costs of the first 24 months.


Asylum-seekers and refugees who have been received in a government reception centre are granted a maintenance allowance according to special rules. For individuals who are denied asylum, the allowance is reduced. During their stay at the reception centre, asylum-seekers may also take a course (max. 250 hours) in the Norwegian language. The scheme does not apply to people over 18 who are covered by the Dublin procedure, i.e. those who are sent back to the first country of asylum to have their asylum case dealt with there. Central government will, to a reasonable extent, cover the average extra costs that local authorities pay for housing and for the integration of refugees and people who have been granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds for the first five years of their stay. Financial social assistance to refugees, like all other forms of financial social assistance, is awarded under the Act on Social Services and Benefits in the Labour and Welfare Administration.

Newly arrived refugees, people who have been granted residence permits on humanitarian grounds and members of reunified families who need basic qualifications are entitled and obliged to partake in an individually tailored activation programme lasting up to two years. The programme runs for at least one year on a full-time basis. Participants are entitled to a benefit that is twice the basic amount provided by Folketrygden. Participants under 25 receive two-thirds of this benefit amount. The benefit is taxable. The programme comprises courses in the Norwegian language and society, as well as other measures preparing immigrants for further training or working life. Supplementary financial social assistance may also be awarded according to the current rules.


The Act on Establishment Measures applies to newcomers of working age, as well as orphan newcomers aged 18–19. When newcomers arrive, the local authority job centre arranges a meeting with them to draw up an establishment plan. The plan, which runs for max. 24 months, describes the activities in which the newcomer must participate in order to find employment as quickly as possible. The newcomers also choose one of several “establishment contacts” provided by the job centre. During the period in which the establishment plan is drawn up, benefits amount to SEK 231 per day, five days a week. This increases to SEK 308 when the newcomers participate in the activities outlined in the plan.

Central government pays the establishment benefit. Newcomers are awarded the same benefit irrespective of where in the country they reside. In some cases, the establishment benefit may be supplemented by further benefits. The job centre sets the amount of the establishment benefit, which is paid by the social insurance fund.

Supplementary benefits are set and paid by the Swedish Social Insurance Agency. The local authorities bear the bulk of the responsibility for establishing newcomers, and as such they are reimbursed by central government. The local authorities are paid both a basic benefit and a standard benefit, to cover expenditure on housing, integration and interpreting.