Denmark has decided not to accept anymore refugee from Syria.
Six years after fleeing the war in Syria, Damascus native Bilal Tamam is “100 per cent fully integrated” in Denmark: he runs his own removals company and his children enjoy sleepovers with Danish friends. But the Tamam family might soon be told to leave as Copenhagen says Damascus and surrounding towns are safe enough for their return, a move that has sparked outrage from activists and refugees.
“Of course [Syria] is not safe [to go back to],” said Tamam, 51, who will soon hear whether Danish authorities will renew his residency permit.
“Those of us who left are considered traitors.” Fighting has subsided in much of the country but activists and analysts who advise the Danish government on Syria this week urged the authorities to reconsider the decision, which they warned “could lead a worrying trend in European refugee policy”.
Critics fear some EU states will follow suit and try to return refugees to countries hit by conflict.
Proposals for a revamp of the EU’s wider approach to migration and asylum, published last year, “confirmed the focus on sealing borders and boosting returns”, Human Rights Watch said in its annual World Report in January.
Almost 33,000 Syrian refugees and their families live in Denmark, a tiny fraction of the 5.6m who have fled their homeland since the country’s bloody civil war began in 2011. Immigrants make up about 9 per cent of Denmark’s population, and the debate around immigration has long been politically charged. The centre-left and centre-right have competed to push through tough laws, allowing, for example, the confiscation of cash and jewellery from migrants.
Refugees — such as Tamam — deemed not personally threatened by the Damascus regime have had to renew their residency every year, and in 2019 the government overturned the blanket protection granted to all Syrians when the war began.
The Danish Refugee Appeals Board has since concluded that security in and around Damascus has improved enough that the need to protect people “who are not individually persecuted, but have a temporary residence permit granted on the grounds of the general circumstances, has ceased to exist”, said Mattias Tesfaye, Denmark’s immigration minister in the Social Democrat government. “Denmark has been open and honest from day one,” said Tesfaye. “We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary.”