DRC’s reaction to Denmark’s decision to revoke Syrian refugees’ residence permits

In March, the civil war in Syria marked a sad ten-year anniversary. But despite the ongoing conflict and clear evidence of the dangers facing refugees who return, the Danish authorities have decided that the general security conditions in Damascus and the greater Damascus area have improved sufficiently that Syrian refugees in Denmark should return. As a result, so far more than 250 Syrians in Denmark have had their residence permits either withdrawn or not extended in the first instance by the Danish Immigration Service.

The Danish Refugee Council disagrees with the decision of the Danish authorities and agrees with UNHCR’s position that Syria is not safe for refugees to return, in the Damascus area or anywhere else. The absence of fighting in some areas of Syria does not mean that people can safely go back. Numerous reports outline the present risks of arbitrary detention and severe human rights abuse on the civilian population. We call on the Danish authorities to change their assessment, especially in light of the recent report from UNHCR, which once again clearly outlines the dangers faced by refugees who return and calls on all states not to forcibly return Syrian nationals to any areas of Syria.

We also question the logic of such a decision when it can’t be practically implemented. Under Danish law, it is not possible for the Danish authorities to forcibly send Syrians back due to the lack of diplomatic relations between the authorities of Denmark and Syria. Instead, people in Denmark who have their residence permits revoked or their applications for asylum rejected are left in limbo at departure centres – potentially indefinitely – as a mean to incentivize them to go back to Syria despite the insecure conditions.

We do not think this policy represents a dignified treatment of any people, let alone people in need who have fled the horrors of war. And as long as the situation in Syria is not conducive for returns – as is the accepted view of the EU, UN, and numerous humanitarian and human rights organisations – we see it as completely pointless to remove people from the life they are trying to build in Denmark and force them into a state of endless uncertainty after fleeing conflict in their homeland. Instead, the Danish authorities should allow Syrian refugees to keep their residence permits and resume their lives in Denmark as long as the situation in Syria is not safe for them to return.