Denmark has withdrawn residency permits for 94 Syrian refugees, declaring it “safe” for them to go home. They become the first European country to deport Syrian refugees.
The calculus used by the Danish government to determine that the region in Syria the refugees will return to is “safe” isn’t known. It’s also a question of just what the refugees will be returning to.
Rif Dimashq province, which surrounds Damascus, saw some of the worst fighting of the Syrian conflict, with the Assad regime relentlessly pounding the formerly rebel-held Ghouta area with barrel bombs and killing thousands of civilians with chemical weapons.
The whole province has been under Assad regime control since 2018, but much of it remains in ruins and has been emptied of its inhabitants. Many refugees fear detention, torture, and death at the hands of regime forces if they return.
Danish Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye said last month that conditions in Syria had “improved” and that Syrian refugees understood that their residence in Denmark was “temporary.”
“We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary… We must give people protection for as long as it is needed. But when conditions in the home country improve, a former refugee should return home and re-establish a life there,” he said.
What “life”? The country is smashed. The region that the refugees are being forced to return to is a wasteland. You might argue that the Danes shouldn’t have accepted any refugees in the first place but once under the government’s protection, they should be given every chance to make a life for themselves and their families when they return.
Michala Bendixen, the head of the human rights group Refugees Welcome Denmark, said that the Danish government’s decision had put Syrian refugees in a “very, very tragic situation”, where they could be forced into the country’s “deportation camps”.
“They will not be forced onto a plane. So it means that they will have to stay in one of the deportation camps, where you don’t have access to education or work, and you have to stay in the centre every night. The government hopes that they will go voluntarily, that they will just give up and go on their own,” she said.
The deportation camps would be preferable to Assad’s prisons or starving in the barren province.
This is a decision that should be reversed. The Syrians need to stay. Not until Syria is some kind of paradise, but at least until people have a fighting chance to succeed.
Otherwise, the Danes are no better than Assad.