Message to Denmark: Syria is not a safe place for returning refugees!

Migration and Asylum, Newsletter, Syria

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Denmark’s decision to strip Syrian refugees of their residence permits has provoked a wave of indignation in Europe and beyond. The European Parliament, the UN Refugee Agency and civil society organisations alike reminded Denmark that Damascus could not be considered a “safe” area.

The Danish decision is sadly aligned with previous stances. Since 2015, Denmark has reduced the protection recognised to Syrian refugees by granting them a “temporary protection” instead of the protection recognised under the 1951 Geneva Convention. This temporary protection presumes an assessment based on the general situation in the country of origin and not on the individual situation of the applicant.

The loss of residence permits triggers a chain of losses for Syrian refugees who are thus deprived of their right to work, healthcare access, education and housing. This leaves refugees in a situation of legal limbo that often has a tragic impact on their mental health. When stripped of their permits, Syrian refugees are at risk of being transferred to “detention” camps in Denmark, where they can be kept for an undetermined period of time or until they “voluntarily” decide to go back to Syria. This is in violation of EU law and the provisions stipulating a limited maximum duration of pre-removal detention. The “voluntariness” of the decision to return to Syria can also be considered as relative for refugees who are living in deplorable conditions in camps and cannot resume their lives in Denmark.

For a country of around six million people, Denmark already hosts a very low number of refugees: 1,547 requests for asylum in 2020 – a quarter of whom already had a residence permit through family reunification – and only 432 new refugees. Besides Hungary, no other EU Member State has adopted a similar stance to Denmark when it comes to the security assessment of the situation in Syria. Numerous bodies and civil society organisations – including EuroMed Rights – have denounced the risks of violence, enforced disappearance, torture and deaths for people returning to Syria.

No country can be presumed “safe” and returning people can have serious consequences for their lives. Denmark must respect the principle of non-refoulement, provide protection to asylum seekers and comply with its obligations under international law.

Photo credit: Sara Prestianni

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