Denmark withdraws residency permits from 94 Syrian refugees, saying Damascus ‘is safe’
Denmark has recently withdrawn residency permits from 94 Syrian refugees, The Daily Telegraph reported on Tuesday, saying that Damascus and the surrounding Rif Dimashq region are “safe” for refugees to return to.
Denmark is so far the only European country to permit deportation of ordinary refugees to war-ravaged Syria, although a German court recently ruled that criminals could be sent back.
Rif Dimashq province, which surrounds Damascus, saw some of the worst fighting of the Syrian conflict, with the Assad regime relentlessly pounding the formerly rebel-held Ghouta area with barrel bombs and killing thousands of civilians with chemical weapons.
The whole province has been under Assad regime control since 2018, but much of it remains in ruins and has been emptied of its inhabitants. Many refugees fear detention, torture, and death at the hands of regime forces if they return.
However, Danish Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye said last month that conditions in Syria had “improved” and that Syrian refugees understood that their residence in Denmark was “temporary”.
"We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary… We must give people protection for as long as it is needed. But when conditions in the home country improve, a former refugee should return home and re-establish a life there,” he said.
Tesfaye is a member of the centre-left Social Democratic Party, which has adopted a hard line against refugees and immigrants in order to compete with right-wing parties for votes.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has recently said that the country’s goal is to have “zero” asylum seekers applying for residency.
The 94 Syrians from the Damascus area lost their Danish residency permits in the middle of January, The Telegraph reported.
A further 350 Syrians from Rif Dimashq province will have their permits reassessed as a result of the Danish government’s decision, The Telegraph said. 900 Syrians from around Damascus also had their asylum cases reopened last year.
Michala Bendixen, the head of the human rights group Refugees Welcome Denmark, said that the Danish government’s decision had put Syrian refugees in a “very, very tragic situation”, where they could be forced into the country’s “deportation camps”.
"They will not be forced onto a plane. So it means that they will have to stay in one of the deportation camps, where you don't have access to education or work, and you have to stay in the centre every night. The government hopes that they will go voluntarily, that they will just give up and go on their own," she said.