Denmark will strip nearly 100 Syrian refugees of their residency permits, asking them to return to “safe zones” as opposition party suggests cooperation with Assad regime on repatriation.

Internally displaced Syrian children are pictured at a camp, in northern Aleppo near the Syrian-Turkish border, Syria, February 17, 2021.
Internally displaced Syrian children are pictured at a camp, in northern Aleppo near the Syrian-Turkish border, Syria, February 17, 2021. (Reuters)

Danish officials have said that Syrian refugees must return their homes as Damascus is declared to be safe to live, becoming first European country to urge return and strip residency permits.

In total, 94 Syrian refugees have had their permits removed, with Denmark’s immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye last month insisting that the Scandinavian country had been "open and honest from the start" about the situation, reported 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 It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed,” Tesfaye said.

Denmark's immigration department recently extended its description of a 'safe zone' and included the Rif Dimashq Governorate, which includes the capital Damascus.

The decision has come after top officials vocalised their strong anti-migration stances as Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said his main aim is to reduce asylum applications to zero.

The country reassessed temporary permits of around 900 refugees last year and with the latest Damascus decision, the number is expected to rise by 350 refugees.

READ MORE: Civilians in northern Syria safe only because of Turkish troops – NYT

'Appalling and reckless' decision

Steve Valdez-Symonds from Amnesty International commented on Denmark's decision, saying it is "appalling" and constitutes a "reckless violation of duty to provide asylum."

“The Danish government 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,” Valdez-Symonds added.

Valdez-Symonds underlined concerns that Denmark’s actions risked “increasing incentives for other countries to abandon their own obligations to Syrian refugees.”

"Not only will this put the lives of even more women, men and children at risk, it will add to reasons that cause people to travel ever further afield in search of safety and security for themselves and their family,” he added.

The refugees will be moved to a deportation camp, where they will have no access to education.

READ MORE: UN envoy: Turkey cannot shoulder Syria's tragedy alone

Opposition suggests cooperation

Denmark's right-wing Liberal party has suggested that the country may cooperate with Syrian regime leader Bashar al Assad to send the refugees back.

“I can imagine an agreement that will only extend to the framework for sending people back, with some guarantees that you can return without being persecuted,” Liberal party's immigration spokesperson Mads Fuglede said.

“If Denmark doesn’t think that can be done, we should push for dialogue with the Assad regime at EU level,” Fuglede added.

However, Social Liberal spokesperson for immigration Andreas Steenberg did not agree, tweeting: “It is completely wrong to cooperate with one of history’s worst dictators… just to look tough (on immigration). These are people we’re talking about.”

Fuglede later backed down from his immediate suggestion and said the deal did not mean to recognise the “criminal dictatorship” led by Assad in Syria.

“I want to stress that the Liberal party does not think Denmark should recognise the Assad regime,” he wrote, calling the regime a “criminal dictatorship which we in no way wish to rubber-stamp.”

“But we should discuss what to do with all the Syrian refugees in Europe as Syria has become safer around Damascus, and how they can safely return to their country,” he continued.

Denmark is also signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents deportation of rejected asylum seekers if they risk torture or persecution in their home countries.

Germany’s Interior Ministry on Friday announced the suspension of a law that banned deportations of Syrian refugees back to their war-torn country. The decision triggered a new debate about whether the political climate in Syria was conducive for such a move. 

For the first time since 2012, Syrians convicted of serious crimes in Germany can be deported. But refugees in the country fear the deportations might not remain limited to criminals.

READ MORE: WFP: Millions face food insecurity in war-torn Syria

Source: TRTWorld and agencies