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Supporting children seeking asylum in Denmark

Oak Foundation Denmark / Partner story

Image © Vores Asylbørn

Seven years old. That was the age of the youngest unaccompanied child seeking asylum who knocked on the door of Vores Asylbørn in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Founded in 2017, Vores Asylbørn, which in English translates to Our Asylum Children, is the only organisation in the country that works independently of state funding to help children seeking asylum. By adopting a holistic approach, Vores Asylbørn works to improve the wellbeing of asylum-seeking children by providing them and their close family with legal and psychosocial support.

Nina Arlet-Ziari and Tine Lautrup founded the organisation, when, several years earlier, they found out that two young Afghan brothers had been imprisoned and were in danger of being deported. “I was so indignant that a boy under 18 had been imprisoned,” says Nina. “My parents were refugees, and I could see myself in their situation.”

In time, the younger brother was released from prison. He did not return to the asylum camp as he ran the risk of being quickly deported. Some churches in Denmark give shelter to people experiencing homelessness, so he found a church where he could stay. It was the first time that he had been separated from his brother since they left Afghanistan, and he found the whole situation distressing. Children seeking asylum typically have no adults around them that they trust. They have often travelled alone on long journeys, during which they can experience trauma, hunger, and are at risk of sexual exploitation.

The boy was frightened to be alone in the church with people he did not know who were also experiencing homelessness. The church pastor and Nina were very concerned, and they both felt it would be better for the boy not to be alone. Nina moved into the church to be close to the boy and to provide him with psychological support while she worked on his case. For a while, she acted as both legal counsellor and caregiver, cooking for them both, and sleeping on a bed she made up next to the baptismal font and altar.

As the brothers’ legal representative, Nina appealed the deportation order, and applied for the boy’s residence permit. Despite the odds, they won the case to have him stay legally in the country. “When I took it on, I did not realise that it would be such a difficult case,” she says. “Soon after, we had 20 other children in the same situation knocking on our door. We were overwhelmed by the many enquiries, and we realised that no one had the children’s best interests at heart.”

Because Nina had started to see that providing care for the children is as important and needed as legal work, she joined forces with Tine to try to help asylum-seeking children in a more systematic way. In 2022, Vores Asylbørn helped 143 children from 18 different countries – both unaccompanied and accompanied. Today, the organisation has 43 team members, including counsellors, family workers, a fundraising and communications team, a project coordinator, and a board of directors. Vores Asylbørn wins up to 80 per cent of the cases it reopens. For the cases it doesn’t win, it continues to support the children and helps them prepare for deportation.

Oak Foundation Denmark supports Vores Asylbørn to build capacity, in order to ensure its future operations as it continues to provide compassionate and legal assistance to children in need. You can learn more about Oak Foundation Denmark here (in Danish) or here (in English).