Skip to main content

Rights group slams Denmark's 'dangerous' decision to return Syrian refugees

Human rights monitor says decision to declare parts of Syria as safe is 'dangerous, inhumane, and illegal'
In early March, Denmark revoked the residency permits of 94 Syrian refugees living in the country.
In early March, Denmark revoked the residency permits of 94 Syrian refugees living in the country (AFP)

A European human rights monitor has expressed "grave concern" over Denmark's recent decision to strip 94 Syrian refugees of their residency permits and declare the Syrian capital Damascus and the governorate surrounding it to be "no longer dangerous".

The Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor (EMHRM) urged the Danish government to reconsider its residency permit judgment and reassess the conditions in Damascus and its surrounding areas.

In pictures: Idlib theatre production tackles trauma of Syria's prisons
Read More »

"We call on Denmark to immediately reconsider this dangerous announcement that signifies a drift in Danish politics towards the far-right," the group said in a statement on Thursday.

In early March, Denmark revoked the residency permits of 94 Syrian refugees living in the country, becoming the first in the European Union to do so, and deemed Damascus to be "no longer sufficiently dangerous to give grounds for international protection". 

Mattias Tesfaye, the Danish immigration minister, claimed that Copenhagen had "made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary. It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed”.

The group said the recent decision to consider the entire Rif Dimashq Governorate - which surrounds Damascus -  safe, will mean that an additional 350 Syrians will be forced to undergo a review that could lead to the revocation of their refugee status in Denmark.

The decision to declare parts of Syria as safe is "dangerous, inhumane, and illegal", the rights monitor said.

Uprooting Syrians' new lives in Denmark

While fighting in and around the Syrian capital has reduced considerably in recent years, the EMHRM noted that the area is still not safe for refugees to return, highlighting a United Nations report demonstrating how the country is still ravaged by war and serious human rights violations.

"The sheer volume, scale and consistency of government policies and acts that the Commission has found to amount to crimes against humanity have continued unabated for nearly 10 years, without any sign that the government intends to discontinue them," the report put together by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said.

The Syrian Network for Human Rights recorded 143 cases of arbitrary arrests or detentions in Syria in March 2021 alone, most of them carried out without a judicial warrant.

'An insufficiently grounded revocation of refugee status and residency permits will only lead to a climate of uncertainty and fear'

- Michela Pugliese, EMHRM

The EMHRM also said that the revocation of their refugee status would uproot many of the Syrian refugees who have already created new lives for themselves in Denmark, with established "family, social and economic links".

"Most of the Syrian refugees whose residence permits have been or are being revoked have already started over in Denmark several years ago, studying, working and integrating into the Danish society," the statement said.

Michela Pugliese, a legal researcher at EMHRM, said that Denmark's policy "seems very far from a sustainable and durable solution, as it disrupts the re-established lives of hundreds of refugees to put them in deportation camps for an undefined period of time, if they refuse to go back to war-torn Syria".

"An insufficiently grounded revocation of refugee status and residency permits will only lead to a climate of uncertainty and fear among the refugee population that will menace profoundly their integration in the Danish community," she said.