Skip to main content

UK: Syrian refugees express alarm after letter refusing 25-year old's asylum request

Home Office insists it is not returning Syrians but refugees worry UK could be on dangerous path
Home Secretary Priti Patel leaves Downing Street after attending a cabinet meeting in central London on October 27, 2021. (AFP)

Syrian activists have expressed alarm after the UK Home Office refused an asylum request by a 25-year old Syrian refugee, telling him that he did not "face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm" if he were to return to his war-ravaged homeland.

Outcry over the incident eventually led to the Home Office reaffirming that it was not in favour of returning people to Syria, as the country remained "unsafe."

But the controversy has raised fears among many Syrian refugees that the UK could end up following the example of Denmark, which last year became the first European country to revoke residency permits from Syrian refugees after claiming that Damascus and its surrounding areas were safe enough to return to.

Abdulaziz Almashi, a Syrian refugee and campaigner living in London, told Middle East Eye that the policy change in Denmark and the letter sent to the 25-year old, who had been attempting to avoid military conscription in his homeland, were deeply troubling.

"We as Syrian refugees have been talking about this recently. And to be honest, we feel in danger now. We don’t trust what the Home Office is saying, and if they have any intention to send refugees back, this is obviously going to affect all Syrian refugees within the UK," he explained.

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"There is not a single part of Syria that can be deemed or considered safe.”

'This is not a joke'

Earlier this week, following a report on the Home Office letter in the Guardian, Human Rights Watch and Refugee Action called for the government to reverse their decision, claiming that picking and choosing which refugees could return would have a damaging effect on Syrians living in other countries.

On Tuesday evening the Home Office tweeted: “In the current circumstances, we are not returning people to Syria. The UK government agrees with the UN judgement that Syria remains unsafe for them.” 

UK: Campaigners deplore 'horrifying' Home Office stance on return of Syrian refugee
Read More »

The incident has still left refugees shaken, though.

For Abdulaziz, who came to the UK in 2009 and has not returned since the uprising began two years later, the danger is overwhelming since he was involved in demonstrations and co-founded the anti-Assad Syria Solidarity Campaign organisation.

“An overwhelming majority of Syrians have fled Assad and the dictatorship in Syria. And Assad is still in power. He recaptured many parts of Syria, which means you cannot send people back. I’m a campaigner. If I am sent back to Syria, I will definitely be executed on my arrival. This is not a joke," he said.

“This is not politics. This is, you know, human rights. Now we are playing with the lives of tens of thousands of refugees, and this is really concerning for all of us.”

According to the UN, more than 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to flee since 2011 and another 6.7 million people remain internally displaced. The conflict has resulted in the deaths of at least 350,00 people.

However, the British home secretary, Priti Patel, has begun implementing a more stringent asylum process, including the introduction of draconian new legislation to imprison smugglers involved in transporting asylum seekers to the country, as well as proposing tagging refugees and building offshore processing centres.

For Abdulaziz and other Syrian refugees he campaigns with, all the recent developments in the UK are “really concerning.”

Zaina Erhaim, a Syrian journalist working with the Institute for War and Peace Reporting, told MEE that for returnees to Syria "detention, kidnapping and being accidentally killed or assassinated are daily threats."

"Returning to where? Syria now is divided between many forces, Iranian, Russian, Turkish, extremists, going back to where exactly is the question?”

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.