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SYRIA

EU politicians criticise Denmark over return policy for Syrian refugees

Denmark faced the ire of European Union parliamentarians on Wednesday for its policy of sending some Syrian refugees back to the Damascus area and revoking their asylum status.

 Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye attends a meeting at the EU Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), in Brussels, Belgium, January 13th, 2022.
Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye attends a meeting at the EU Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), in Brussels, Belgium, January 13th, 2022. Photo: Johanna Geron/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye was on Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels to attend an EU civil rights committee over Denmark’s policy of sending some Syrian refugees back to the Damascus region.

The EU’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) summoned Tesfaye to the hearing.

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, claiming “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

Despite a wave of Danish and international criticism, including from experts used by the government, Tesfaye’s ministry refused to budge.

READ ALSO: ‘I can’t go back’: Syrian refugees in Denmark face limbo after status revoked

“How do you expect them (the refugees) to integrate in Denmark with the threat of being sent back,” Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, of the centrist Renew group, asked Tesfaye according to Danish news wire Ritzau’s report.

Several members of the LIBE committee stated that they believed Denmark was displaying a lack of solidarity with other EU countries with the policy, because refugees in Denmark were more likely to apply for asylum elsewhere in the EU than to return to Syria.

“All your politics does is send a signal to the Syrians that they are not welcome in Denmark,” Maltese social democratic MEP Cyrus Engerer said according to Ritzau.

Another MEP, Tineke Strik of the Greens alliance, called the policies pursued by the Danish Social Democratic government a moral low point.

Tesfaye said at the hearing that the EU must change its asylum system to prevent people smuggling.

“We must ensure that it is Europe that has control of who comes into the EU, not the people smugglers,” he said.

The Danish minister also repeated Denmark’s claim that Syrians can safely return to some parts of the country including Damascus.

He also spoke about Denmark’s plan to open an asylum processing centre in a third country. Rwanda has been reported to be the intended location of such an offshore Danish asylum facility.

Tesfaye said he hoped the Danish project would inspire other countries to take a similar step, but some MEPs questioned how Denmark would be able to ensure asylum seekers’ rights are protected in locations outside of the EU.

He received support from other MEPs during the hearing, notably Peter Kofod of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party and conservative Italian MEP Nicola Procaccini.

READ ALSO: Amnesty slams Rwanda migrant deal as ‘new low’ for Denmark

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DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS

Danish foreign minister talks up EU membership for Balkan countries

Balkan countries must have the prospect of EU membership, Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen said during a visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina on Friday.

Danish foreign minister talks up EU membership for Balkan countries

The EU must seek close relations with countries in the Western Balkans to prevent them turning towards Russia or China, Rasmussen said.

“[Without good relations] we are leaving the Balkan countries open to Russian or Chinese influence, which is problematic,,” he said.

“For the EU’s part, we must keep reaching out to the countries in the Western Balkans and show that we are serious about the prospect of EU membership,” he added.

A number of Balkan countries are already engaged in talks about possible EU membership.

Rasmussen said the best course for Denmark in this regard is to improve its own bilateral relations with countries in the region.

“As such, we are talking specifically about exploring the possibilities of an agreement between our two countries which could pave the way for greater engagement such as more Danish business investment and more trade,” he said to news wire Ritzau.

“So if we want to make sure that these countries look towards Brussels instead of the Kremlin or Beijing, then we have to strategically invest here. That means cold cash [spent] on infrastructure and things like that,” he added.

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