From file: A young refugee family walking along highway E45 from Padborg in Denmark near the border with Germany in 2015 | Photo: ©SCANPIX DENMARK/AFP
From file: A young refugee family walking along highway E45 from Padborg in Denmark near the border with Germany in 2015 | Photo: ©SCANPIX DENMARK/AFP

Denmark has stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their residency permits after declaring that Damascus and the surrounding area were safe. The Scandinavian nation is the first EU country to say that law-abiding refugees can be sent back to Syria.

In Denmark, 94 Syrian refugees were stripped of their temporary residence permits, various British media reported this week. The move comes after the Danish government decided to extend the area of Syria it considers safe to include the Rif Dimashq Governorate – an area that includes the capital Damascus.

According to the news platform Arab News, the Danish government said the 94 people will be sent to Danish deportation camps, but will not be forced to leave. Human rights groups however fear that the refugees will feel pressured to leave, even though their return is voluntary.

The Danish immigration minister, Mattias Tesfaye, insisted last month that the Scandinavian country had been "open and honest from the start" about the situation of Syrian refugees, according to the British daily The Telegraph. "We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary. It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed," the newspaper quoted Tesfaye as saying.

The minister highlighted that Denmark would offer protection as long as needed but that "when conditions in the home country improve, a former refugee should return home and re-establish a life there."

'Wreckless violation of duty'

Last December, Germany's deportation ban to Syria expired – but the only people now eligible for deportation are Syrian nationals who committed criminal offences or those deemed to pose a serious risk to public security. Denmark is the first European Union member to say that law-abiding refugees can be sent back to Syria.

Human rights groups have strongly criticized the new Danish policy.

"That the Danish government is seeking to force people back into the hands of this brutal regime is an appalling affront to refugee law and people’s right to be safe from persecution," Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International UK, told The Independent.

"This reckless violation of Denmark’s duty to provide asylum also risks increasing incentives for other countries to abandon their own obligations to Syrian refugees," he said.

The organization Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières, MSF) told The Independent that they assume people sent back to the Rif Dimashq Governorate would face similar challenges to the ones that people in northern Syria are facing, "given the scale and duration of the Syrian conflict ​and the impact of the war on infrastructure and the health system."

A member from the rights group Refugees Welcome in Denmark told The Telegraph that the 94 Syrians who had their residency permits revoked are facing years of limbo. "The government hopes that they will go voluntarily, that they will just give up and go on their own," Michala Bendixen said. She said Syrian refugees now face a "very, very tragic situation," and will be forced from their homes, jobs and studies and into Danish deportation camps.

Denmark's anti-migrant stance

About 900 Syrian refugees from the Damascus area had their temporary protection permits reassessed in Denmark last year, according the The Independent. The latest decision to declare the Rif Dimashq area as safe will mean that a further 350 Syrian nationals (of 1,250 Syrians in the country) will have to undergo reassessment which could lead to a revocation of their protection status and residency permits.

The ruling center-left Social Democratic Party in Denmark has taken a strong anti-migration stance since coming into office in 2019. Recently, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she wants to aim for "zero" asylum seekers applying to live in Denmark.

Denmark last year saw the lowest number of asylum seekers since 1998, with 1,547 people applying.

 

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