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IMMIGRATION

Danish petition asks lawmakers to end Syrian repatriation policy

A petition demanding that Denmark stop its controversial policy of revoking residency of some Syrian refugees on Tuesday got the required number of signatures to be submitted to parliament.

The Danish parliament, which must now address a citizens' petition calling for the government to stop withdrawing protection from Syrian refugees from Damascus.
The Danish parliament, which must now address a citizens' petition calling for the government to stop withdrawing protection from Syrian refugees from Damascus. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

In the summer of 2020, Denmark decided to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from the capital Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, saying “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

The move, supported by much of Denmark’s political class, sparked protests and a petition was launched in April asking parliament to change the law allowing the measure.

On Tuesday, the petition, which is available online, had been signed by more than 53,000 people. It needed 50,000 signatures for parliament to consider it.  

“We want the Folketing (parliament) to change the law allowing the Danish authorities to send back Syrian refugees under the circumstances today,” it reads.

The government has withdrawn protection from dozens of Syrian refugees, citing an improved security situation in the Damascus area. Humanitarian organisations, experts and the refugees themselves have said that they still risk persecution if they return.

Because Denmark does not cooperate with the Assad regime and can therefore not forcibly send the refugees to Syria, refugees who lose asylum status face detainment in one of Denmark’s infamous departure or expulsion centres.

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“Denmark should not force refugees into a choice between living an undignified and traumatising life at an expulsion centre or travelling back to a country where the regime they fled from is still in power and still violates the fundamental human rights of the Syrian people,” the petition also states.

Since Denmark announced the measure in summer of 2020, at least 250 Syrians in Denmark have had their temporary residency permits revoked, according to government statistics published in May.

At the end of an appeals process, those who had only been granted temporary residency could be placed in a detention centre pending their deportation.

Under Danish immigration law, temporary residence permits are issued without an end date in cases of a “particularly serious situation in the country of origin characterised by arbitrary violence and attacks against civilians.”

But they can be revoked once conditions are deemed to have improved.

Some 35,500 Syrians currently live in Denmark, more than half of whom arrived in 2015, according to Statistics Denmark.

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IMMIGRATION

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.

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Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.

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