Take it from me - and Amnesty - sending Syrians home is fatal
On 7 September, Amnesty International published a report revealing violations and crimes against Syrian refugees returning home. For Syrians, those violations are nothing new nor are they unfamiliar. Those crimes were the reason many of them left their homeland.
However, this report by a well-known credible organisation revealing the horrors recently committed by the Assad regime sends a strong message to EU governments and politicians that have been attempting to create and propagate a "Syria is safe" hypothesis.
The report, dramatically titled "You're going to your death", clearly states that it's not only the war that is threatening Syrians, but also the Assad regime itself.
"It's not only the war that is threatening Syrians, but also the Assad regime itself"
The Assad regime is a murderous dictatorship, established on terror. It preys on the lives of its people and derives its survival from their oppression, suffering, and death. If these atrocities halt, the Assad regime would fall.
This is an axiom that countries hosting Syrian refugees should not ignore. Host countries must stop making refugee lives miserable with new restrictive immigration regulations and laws.
Syria will never be safe under Assad.
Assad's brutality in his prisons is expanding, turning Syria into one large detention and torture facility.
Back in 2012, after arresting me, the Syrian Airforce intelligence unit moved me to the Fourth Division detention facility. The jailers at the gate received me and my colleagues with indescribable beating and humiliation to the point where I lost consciousness.
This is known among Syrians as the "reception party".
The reception party extended into the cell, where, in addition to the routine daily beatings and torture, jailers beat us newcomers, every morning of our first days.
"The jailers at the gate received me and my colleagues with indescribable beating and humiliation. This is known among Syrians as the 'reception party'"
The regime beats prisoners upon arrival to "punish", "discipline" and "retaliate", but also to impart the message: "We are in full control of you, your existence, your body, and your life."
This is the exact message the Assad regime wants to send to those who return to their homeland, a country that turned into one large detention facility.
Just two days after I was released in 2013, I was stopped at a security checkpoint inside Damascus while travelling home. The armed officer took my identity card and threatened me while reading from it: "You are from the Omari family. You are from Damascus. Do not cross here again."
I never did, and days later I left my country.
Syrian refugees are not welcome
Despite some statements, the Syrian regime is not really trying to welcome Syrians back into the country. The government's prevailing rhethoric, in its media and among loyalists, is that those who left are traitors and agents of the opposition.
However, Syrian refugees in Europe are likewise facing difficulties and hurdles that amount to a kind of torture by their host countries. The suffering of Syrian refugees in Sweden, Denmark, and other countries is often ignored. New strict residency and protection rules trigger uncertainty, throwing refugees' lives into a living hell of instability.
These refugees should not be suffering in a so-called "safe" country.
Refugees returning to Syria have been called traitors and abused by Syrian officials because they looked for safety abroad. Denmark thinks Syria is safe for returns, does it sound safe to you?— Amnesty International (@amnesty) September 7, 2021
Denmark must not put refugees in harms way—act now: https://t.co/Y06uN1B5H0 ✊ pic.twitter.com/IBntLrzjzr
Denmark states that it has not deported Syrians whose residency permits were refused, attempting to mitigate pressure and criticism of its new regulations. However, this is not only a matter of deportation, but of revoking or refusing to grant residency itself. Doing so leads to devastating consequences for refugees.
Constant uncertainty and anxiety harms people's psyche and causes them psychological and emotional suffering that impacts all aspects of their lives, including language learning, employment, and social integration.
Denmark's right-wing government is morally and legally responsible for this suffering. In July, the London-based international justice group, Guernica 37, announced that it is prepared to take legal action against the Danish government due to its attempts to return Syrian refugees to Syria.
However, further actions must be taken to hold governments to account for their policies.
"These refugees should not be suffering in a so-called 'safe' country"
I personally know several Syrian refugees in Sweden. Their lives are unstable and they are suffering due to a lack of certainty about their near future. The new laws in Sweden have dealt a devastating blow.
In Denmark, refugees are subject to the same psychological torture.
Foreigners are stopped in the streets by extremists telling them to go back to their country. Meanwhile, the Danish government adopts Assad's narrative, reporting that parts of Syria are "safe". Siding with the torturer, and knowingly sending Syrians to a place where they would be tortured and disappeared, the Danish government risks complicity in Assad's crimes, in addition to its corporations' possible complicity in war crimes.
It seems that Sweden and Denmark are deliberately putting refugees in a situation in which they cannot grow roots and are at risk of deportation.
The Amnesty International report shows that facts matter and that hiding them could kill. It should serve as another alarm bell for European politicians who are trying to push refugees to go back, to an almost certain death. What they are doing is illegal and they might be held accountable sooner than they think.
Mansour Omari is a Syrian journalist and Syria correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, and holds an LLM in Transitional Justice and Conflict.
He is the author of Syria Through Western Eyes: In-depth look on the Western reporting on Syria in 2013-2014. He has written for publications including The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Apostrophe and several Syrian media outlets.
Follow him on Twitter: @MansourOmari
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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.