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Netherlands ruling blocking transfer of Syrian refugees to Denmark hailed by campaigners

Dutch court makes ruling after Denmark deemed parts of government-controlled Syria safe for refugees to return to
Demonstrators, friends and relatives protest against the deportation of Syrian families to their homeland, in Copenhagen on 13 November 2021 (AFP)

A human rights group has praised a Dutch court's decision to stop the Netherlands from automatically sending Syrians to Denmark after Copenhagen ruled that parts of government-controlled areas in Syria were safe for refugees to be returned to.

Under the current system, the first European Union country reached by an asylum seeker is responsible for processing their claim. 

EU member states are entitled to transfer an asylum seeker to the member state they first arrived in, premised on the idea that both countries share similar asylum standards. 

But the Netherlands' Council of State ruled on 6 July that the Dutch could no longer send Syrian refugees back to Denmark after Danish authorities said areas controlled by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad were safe. 

The areas deemed safe by Denmark include the capital Damascus and the surrounding countryside.

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Under the new guidance, the Netherlands will require an individual assessment for each case before a transfer is considered. 

'It is astonishing that Denmark needs reminding that none of Syria is safe for refugee returns'

- Nadia Hardman, Human Rights Watch

Nadia Hardman, a researcher on refugees and migrant rights for Human Rights Watch, praised the decision and said Denmark's drive to designate parts of Syria safe was "losing ground". 

"It is astonishing that Denmark needs reminding that none of Syria is safe for refugee returns," Hardman said in a statement.  

"The country is largely controlled by authorities responsible for crimes against humanity against their own citizens, buoyed by a network of state security agencies." 

Hardman added: "The Dutch decision will not overhaul the Danish designation that parts of Syria are safe – only the Danes can see to this."

"But it is telling that in 71 per cent of cases, Denmark's own Refugee Appeals Board has reversed decisions to remove temporary protection from Syrian refugees and granted them full refugee status."

The UN Refugee Agency maintains that Syria is not safe for refugees or has announced any repatriation plans for Syrian refugees to the country. 

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