The Danish government wanted to send refugee Aya Abo Daher, seen here with her high school principal, back to Syria | Photo: Rahima Abdullah
The Danish government wanted to send refugee Aya Abo Daher, seen here with her high school principal, back to Syria | Photo: Rahima Abdullah

Young women are at greatest risk of being forced to return to Syria under Denmark's controversial policy towards Syrian refugees. The Danish government continues its selective policy towards refugees, largely depending on their origin.

The Danish government, independently of other EU member states, has deemed the Syrian capital Damascus and its surrounding countryside to be a safe area to return refugees to already back in 2020.

As a result, Syrians who sought refuge from the civil war in Denmark are now increasingly being forced to return home while the war in the country is still ongoing in various areas. Rights groups have strongly criticized the move, accusing Danish authorities of putting returnees in danger.

Critics say that Denmark has become an increasingly hostile environment for migrants and refugees in recent years with its divisive policies such limiting the number of "non-westeners" living in certain neighbourhoods, returning refugees to countries which are still at war and proposals such as outsourcing asylum processing to Rwanda.

In practice, these policies appear to target young, single women the most.

Young women especially at risk

Boys and young men are usually excused from being sent back to the country, as they are faced with having to be conscripted into military service if they return to Syria. Older people and families are also less likely to be affected. This why the policy of returning Syrian refuges to their home country mainly affects young women.

Aya Abo Daher was just graduating high school when she received her deportation notice from the Danish authorities. The 22-year-old had been living in Denmark for five years when she received the notification, having fully integrated into society and having received her education there.

In the months that followed, Daher's story caused a public outcry in Denmark and beyond. Speaking fluent Danish, her story attracted a lot of attention; she is now also the subject of a recent documentary produced by The Guardian which follows her as she navigates the risk of deportation to her war-torn home country.

For Daher, the immediate risk of deportation has now dissipated following her appeal to the Danish Refugee Board; Daher's residency was eventually extended for an additional two years on the grounds that her public profile would put her in danger from the Assad regime if she was to return to Syria. However, others are likely not going to be so lucky with their appeals.

"They gave me a residency permit because I was in the media. They did not believe in what I said about my situation and the dangers I would face in Syria. That really hurt," Daher told The Guardian.

"I hope I don't have to go through this process again."

Denmark's selective stance on refugees

There is also criticism that the current policy presents a stark contrast to the treatment of Ukrainian refugees in Denmark. The Danish government has been accused of racism after MPs changed the country's controversial "anti-ghetto law" to allow Ukrainian refugees to move into social housing.

The move comes after a decree was issued saying that "non-westerners" had to be restricted from moving into what is described as "disadvantaged neighbourhoods" in order to avoid the formation of "parallel societies."

Last year, the Danish interior ministry also proposed a bill that would reduce the number of residents of "non-western" origin in any Danish neighborhood to a maximum of 30% within 10 years.

These so-called "non-westerners" have been defined as people from outside the EU and eight associated European countries, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The decision whether or not people from other countries are then to be sent back to their countries appears to be at the discretion of politicians, authorities and bureaucrats.

For Aya Abo Daher, her public plea on Danish television serves as a plea for everyone that might be affected by Denmark's divisive immigration policies: "I really hope I don't have to go back (to) where I risk being killed."


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