Denmark intends to return Syrian refugees as the only country in the European Union. Following a change in law, their residence permit can be withdrawn more quickly and families will be split up. The Social Democratic Government is committed to a new approach, which is no longer about integration but about returning.
At a demonstration for Christiansborg, the Danish parliament, Syrian youngsters climb up to the stage one by one to tell their story. Their residence permit has been withdrawn and therefore they are isolated from the rest of their families in Denmark in an expulsion centre.
The 25-year-old Faeza Satouf is one of them. She fled with her father to Denmark, after her father deserted. Faeza is trained as a nurse and eventually wants to become a doctor. Her father, sister and stepmother may remain for the time being, yet Faeza‘s residence permit is withdrawn. “My father is wanted in Syria. I’m afraid I‘ll get caught when I return.”
The Bertawi family had just found its turn in Denmark when it became known that the youngest sister’s residence permit had been withdrawn:
The 24-year-old Muhammad is also isolated from his family. After his parents and the rest of the family received a rejection, they fled from Denmark to another country. Muhammed is the only one left behind in Denmark and is now waiting for his appeal to be found.
“ They said to me: Muhammed, you have to choose, your family or Denmark. I chose the latter. I‘d like to go back to Syria, but not as long as Assad’s in there. An uncle of mine disappeared 10 years ago. I don‘t have anyone there right now.”
Denmark captured over 8500 Syrian refugees in 2015. Since its entry into office in 2019, the Danish government has deployed several methods of return. For example, Danish officials undertake factfinding missions to evaluate the situation in Syria. This led to a first report in 2019 concluding that the situation in Damascus has improved. Meanwhile, the region around Damascus has also been declared safe.
Refugees are also encouraged to return with money: those who work on their return from the start can receive between €13,000 and €27,000. Of the small 19,000 Syrian refugees who fled to Denmark between 2013 and 2016, more than 200 have benefited from this scheme.
Now the first pile of residence permits for some 900 Syrian refugees coming from Damascus and surrounding region is being reviewed. The government’s new line is controversial, but it also receives a lot of support. The Social-Democratic minority government came to power in 2019 with the promise to pursue a tougher refugee and immigration policy.
“ We have taken care of many refugees since the 1980s, and they are not able to integrate them. It leads to unemployment, crime and cultural clashes,” says the Social Democratic Rasmus Stoklund. “Previously, it was not possible to return refugees. We want to change that.”
In 2015, an amendment to the law was introduced, which makes it possible to divide refugees into more categories and thus send them back earlier. Refugees who are persecuted personally, such as political activists and deserters, are allowed to keep their residence permits for the time being. Anyone who has fled because of violence can be returned.
legal point of view, it is not an obstacle that the situation is still uncertain and unstable. In other words, the fact that there is no more fighting in Damascus and its surroundings is sufficient for Danish law to withdraw residence permits.
The Danish Government would like to go one step further. The aim is to stop receiving any refugee in Denmark. Instead, asylum reception should be organised in a third country, with Denmark looking at Rwanda among other things.
Nothing to complain
For the return to Syria, the Danish Government is not cooperating with President Assad‘s regime. That is why refugees cannot be put on the plane. Syrian refugees whose residence permit is now withdrawn will be placed in a Danish deportation centre for an indefinite period. That’s where all their rights lapse.
According to the Social Democratic Rasmus Stoklund, refugees sent there have nothing to complain about. “They can be happy that they have had access to our health and education system. On the contrary, it is positive that they can now return to their home country with new skills.”