Authority figures in Denmark have announced their intention to cancel refugee residency permits for Syrians as they now consider the Syria safe enough for refugees to return to. This controversial decision has been met with criticism both domestically and internationally, as no other country has deemed Syria safe enough to allow for repatriation. Many human rights organizations, such as UNCHR, have condemned this decision, and likewise individuals from all over the world have signed onto petitions demanding the Danish government reverse its decision. While Denmark has always taken a stricter stance on immigration and accepting asylees than many of its European neighbors, this decision still comes as a surprise.
The immigration minister, Mattias Tesfaye, has defended the country’s actions, saying “we have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary and that the permit can be revoked if the need for protection ceases to exist.” However, many organizations argue that there is still a need to protect Syrian asylees and that it is too dangerous to allow them to return. A spokesperson from Amnesty International has called Denmark’s actions a “an appalling affront to refugee law and people’s right to be safe from persecution.” The Danish government has also offered to pay voluntary returnees to Syria around £22,000 per person in the past, to convince them to return home, but not many have taken up this offer, due to fears of violence back in Syria.
Denmark’s stance towards refugees has been very different from its neighboring countries, such as Germany and Sweden, which on the whole have welcomed Syrian asylum seekers. This is in part because the far-right wing Danish People’s Party has been gaining influence over the government for a while, making refugee policy more conservative and extreme than in the past. Given that no other country has yet deemed Syria safe to return to, Denmark’s actions can be viewed as highly controversial and detrimental to the wellbeing of these refugees, who would be placed in danger by returning.
The Syrian conflict has been ongoing for over 10 years now and thousands of refugees have fled the country for destinations around the world. The Arab Spring uprisings in 2011 marked the start of the conflict against the Syrian government and President Bashar al-Asaad. The government was accused of authoritarian measures to rule, leading to political and economic instability. At some point peaceful protests turned into nationwide uprisings, which ultimately resulted in a militarized rebellion. Since then, more than 6.6 million Syrians have been forced to flee the country due to the violence caused by the civil war, and many have not been able to return since. Just this February, the US carried out an airstrike in Syria, targeted Iraqi militia groups they believed to be hiding there, proving that the country is still largely unsafe for civilians.
Denmark’s decision is worrying as other EU countries may decide to follow this precedent and try to break existing international refugee law and repatriation clauses. Should these increasingly right wing policies become the norm, this would make the EU a dangerous place for refugees seeking asylum abroad.