The Danish government will evaluate deporting 900 Syrian refugees after deeming Assad regime-controlled Damascus to be safe for return.
The Danish government is fast-tracking a review of residence permits for 900 Syrian refugees from Damascus, stating that conditions in the Syrian capital no longer warrant their temporary protected status.
In an announcement last week, Immigration and Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye said: “Last year, almost 100,000 refugees returned to Syria from the surrounding areas. Of course, their countrymen who have been granted protection in Europe must also go home when conditions in Syria permit.”
“In recent weeks, the Independent Refugee Board has ruled that five people from Damascus Province are not entitled to temporary protection because conditions in the area have improved. Therefore, I have now decided that we must quickly review the pile of cases with refugees from Damascus to investigate who no longer needs protection in Denmark.”
Tesfaye added that any refugees forced to return would be given travel money.
Based on the previous screening, the government estimated that the immigration authorities will approve approximately 900 cases for further evaluation.
The decision has come under heavy criticism given the evidence of Syrians being harassed, detained, tortured and even murdered upon their return.
Consequently, the Danish government’s evaluation will endanger people who are entitled to protection under UN and EU refugee law. The provisions of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) states that “no one shall be subjected to torture nor to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) advised against the decision.
"DRC maintains UNHCR’s position that the conditions inside Syria are not conducive for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of refugees to Syria and we strongly warn against sending back Syrian refugees. The UNHCR encourages states to uphold the protection of Syrian refugees and DRC strongly encourages the Danish authorities to follow UNHCR’s recommendations,” DRC Secretary General Charlotte Slente said in a statement to TRT World.
The UNHCR has also stated that refugees on average require protection for 17 years.
The Danish decision to say Damascus was safe was wrong when it was made and remains wrong. Even worse, it has given a crack in the door to other countries to follow suit. Rather than reconsidering individual cases, they should reconsider their own policy. https://t.co/2SbRBJQa86— Emma Beals (@ejbeals) June 29, 2020
In May and June this year, the Refugee Board, a Danish independent group that deals with complaints related to asylum decisions in the country, made decisions on cases of Syrians from Damascus on the basis that they do not need protection and must leave the country.
Tesfaye’s message goes against that of his fellow minister in the government, Minister of Foreign Affairs Jeppe Kofod, whose statement about the impunity of Bashar Al Assad’s government and its crimes was made explicitly clear.
“The regime is known for torture and arbitrary detentions. Countless Syrians live in terrifying uncertainty. They fear the worst as their loved ones have disappeared into regime detention facilities. Numerous reports describe the worst forms of torture.”
Today, the fourth annual Brussels conference on the conflict in Syria takes place. Together with a number of other European foreign ministers, @JeppeKofod used the opportunity to focus on the need to avoid impunity in Syria.#dkaid #SyriaConf2020 #dkiverden pic.twitter.com/9eTefRa8YW— Denmark MFA 🇩🇰 (@DanishMFA) June 30, 2020
Kofod’s statement was illustrated with images from a report by the Syrian Network for Human Rights (SNHR), which has documented at least 25 arbitrary arrests in Damascus and its surroundings in the month of May. In June alone the number reached 112 detainees.
Last year, the Syrian Association for Citizen’s Dignity (SACD) reported the experience of displaced Syrians who were forced to return to regime-held areas, including Damascus and its surroundings.
According to their findings, 62 percent of returnees or their closest relatives have been subjected to arbitrary detention by Assad’s security forces. It rose to 75 percent in the “reconciliation areas”, which include parts of the Damascus countryside.
The SACD also accounted for the regime’s policies of forced conscription, whereby 68 percent of total respondents or their relatives were wanted for recruitment in compulsory military service, which was the main cause for fleeing.
Apart from the reality on the ground in Syria, the decision by the Danish Immigration Service also contradicts the assessments of its fellow EU members.
On June 11, in a statement made after Germany extended the moratorium on repatriation of Syrian refugees, the German Foreign Ministry said that “there are still many risks for refugees in Syria, whether due to the numerous militias and their checkpoints or the weapons in the hands of these militias or those affiliated with the regime, who still use them without mercy against the Syrian people through its many intelligence services.”
The lack of clarity in determining the level of threat faced by returnees to Damascus could set a dangerous precedent, whereby the same criteria could be applied to other parts of Syria like Aleppo, Daraa, or Homs.
In 2015, Syrians fleeing war in large numbers to Europe were provided a temporary protected status – a short-term right to stay as a persecuted person unable to return home – subject to annual renewals.
Since 2011, nearly 35,000 Syrians have received residency in Denmark, and those with temporary status face certain restrictions.
Last December, Denmark became the first country to deny Syrians asylum requests on the basis of Damascus being safe.
The Refugee Board upheld a decision by the Danish Immigration Service, having argued that the individuals faced no present danger in returning to the Syrian government-controlled capital.
The assessment was based on a report on the conditions in Syria, published by the Immigration Service in November 2018.
Reduction in protections for refugees have come at a time when anti-immigrant sentiment has gained a foothold and is being reflected in government policies.
The ‘paradigm shift’ asylum bill, which passed the Danish parliament last February, had been critically evaluated by humanitarian organisations.
A central aspect of the bill was its shift in focus from integration to future repatriation in government’s approach to those who seek refuge in Denmark.
The ‘paradigm shift’ term has come to describe the government and Danish People’s Party policy and law changes which have sought to reduce the number of refugees who remain in the country permanently.