Denmark's dangerous plan to deport Syrian refugees to Assad-controlled Damascus
The move, which effectively threatens to bring forward the deportation of hundreds of Syrians, comes a month after the Danish Refugee Board decided that Syrians from Damascus were no longer in need of protection and could return to the Syrian capital.
An immigration ministry statement said that any refugees forced to return would be given travel money.
The announcement has come under severe criticism from human rights campaigners who point out that no area of Syria is currently safe to return to. There are credible reports of returnees being harassed, detained, tortured and even murdered on their return to Syria.
Emma Beals, an expert on the Syrian conflict, condemned the decision, emphasising that anyone who returns is at risk, and that Denmark sets a dangerous precedent for the treatment of Syrians by EU countries.
"The majority of refugees did not flee the conflict itself but the structural violence of the government of Syria and the security apparatus," she told The New Arab.
"Checking names with security services or receiving 'guarantee' of safety does not equate safe return, with cases reported of people facing arrest of harassment after receiving approval to return," she added.
Beals also pointed out that many areas of Damascus were at one point under opposition control, and therefore both current and former residents, "are treated with suspicion or discriminated against as a result".
Critics have also pointed out that Denmark's move shows a deep misunderstanding of how the return process works inside Syria. Whereas European countries identify refugees from Damascus from their last address, they may have been displaced from another town or region which the Syrian authorities will associate them with, and will be moved there instead.
"It is also impossible to say that someone is safe in one city or town, as they musy travel to fulfill basic tasts and even to access that city," said Beals. "There have been cases of people being cleared to return to a town but face arrest when they travel elsewhere."
Meanwhile, the EU has said it will not promote any reconstruction or refugee returns to Syria until a UN-led process towards a ceasefire and political settlement has progressed.
"It is hard to square this broader position with any erosion of protection for Syrian refugees in Europe," said Beals.
"Decisions by Denmark and other states in the region to begin reducing these protections set a dangerous precedent for others at a time when the EU's commitment to a comprehensive political solution and humanitarian support for Syrians should be matched by continued generosity in asylum protections within EU states themselves," she added.
Denmark's socialist government has proved controversial among the country's left-wingers since now-Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen won the last election after stating her support for hard-line, anti-Islam and anti-immigrant policies such as banning the face veil and confiscating valuables from Syrian refugees in order to "pay for their stay" in asylum centres.
Many were hoping her statements on immigration would be limited to rhetoric, however her government has proved itself willing to take unprecedented steps toward the erosion of refugee protections.
Seventy-one Syrians were given a 140,000 Kroner (21,100 USD) incentive to leave the country between May and November 2019, under new rules meaning that Syrian refugees living in Denmark would have a year to decide whether or not to surrender their right to Danish residence after they returned home.
Since the Syrian war began in 2011, some 35,000 Syrians have been granted residency in Denmark, according to government figures.
Neighbouring countries Sweden and Germany have granted asylum to an estimated 100,000 and 600,000 refugees respectively.
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