The present study is the work of Angela Waz. She is an MA candidate at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on the Syrian refugee crisis, as well as the radical-right governments of Poland and Hungary and their negative impact on relocation quotas for migrants set by the EU. She has spent the past two years researching in-depth issues of the Syrian refugee crisis including the EU processes currently in place for asylum, the conditions in detention centres, and alternative relocation methods for migrants entering Europe. She is currently an intern at Voice in Bulgaria- Center for Legal Aid where she assists with research on current asylum-appeal cases as well as conducting research for internal and external uses of the agency.
Recently, Denmark has begun revoking residency permits that the state has previously granted to Syrian refugees. The Danish government recently reviewed the temporary protection status of 1,250 Syrian refugees from Damascus at the end of 2020 1. Although more than 35,000 Syrians currently residing in Denmark on the basis of temporary protection have not been impacted, 380 Syrians living in Denmark have had their status revoked and have been asked to voluntarily return to Syria. If they do not comply with this order, they will be sent to deportation camps.
Based on those who have had their status revoked, it is clear that most of these cases are women as men are still viewed to be in greater danger of being conscripted to the military upon returning to Syria.
Denmark is the first EU state to start officially revoking temporary protection residence permits however, this follows a troublesome pattern of what is currently happening in the EU in terms of Syrian refugees. Other EU member-states are in the process of designing policies to discourage Syrian refugees from seeking asylum status in their nations. EU member-states are doing this by taking away the benefits previously provided for Syrian refugees and making protection only available for those who reach their borders. The second part of these policy changes goes directly against the refugee relocation quotas set out by the EU which were meant to distribute refugees based on quotas to different member-states.
Denmark employs different statuses of protection for refugees. Refugees who are found to have a real threat of persecution are granted refugee status while civilians who flee due to violence and civil war are only granted temporary protection which needs to be renewed every year.
At the end of last year, the Danish government conducted a review of the Damascus area-something more EU states are probably going to start- and found that the situation has improved significantly leading their government to start rejecting the renewal of temporary protection status-holders. The situation in Damascus no longer includes airstrikes or on the ground fighting.
Experts in the field have spoken out about Denmark’s decision stating that while the situation does not include fighting, people are constantly being detained and even tortured if they are suspected to oppose President Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Refugees who return to the country are automatically viewed as dissidents since they sought refuge during the civil war. It is reported that hundreds who have gone back have experienced arrests, detention, and torture. Moreover, due to the civil war and the destruction it caused, people returning to Syria no longer have homes or jobs to return to.
Although Denmark is the first European state to officially start revoking permits, the UK and Sweden also recently conducted reviews of the Damascus area and arrived at the same conclusions regarding its safety. Although Denmark is not actively deporting people, by stripping them of their residence permits these individuals can no longer work or legally rent an apartment therefore encouraging them to leave the Danish state.
Experts in the field such as academics and analysts of the situation in Syria have strongly condemned the actions of the Danish government as well as the actions of other European states heading in the same direction2. They have found that conditions do not presently exist anywhere in Syria for safe returns. The research is clear, Syria is not a safe country to return to and those who do return are at a significant risk of detention and even torture. The UNHCR also stated this year that while conditions in Syria seem to have improved on a surface-level these changes are not fundamental, stable, or durable in character so as to make a permanent decision of returning refugees 3.
The return of refugees is definitely a worrying trend across Europe considering that experts have identified a continued need for protection for people from Syria. The government of Denmark and other European states who are drawing similar conclusions cannot base such a permanent decision of returning refugees during a time when the crisis may be considered more “mild” in Damascus. As experts mentioned the situation in Syria is in no way stable or likely to remain that way for prolonged periods of time. The protection of Syrian refugees must be ongoing for the time being.