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Denmark: Hundreds of refugees must not be illegally forced back to Syrian warzone

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Hundreds of Syrian refugees whose residency permits have been revoked by the Danish authorities could face torture, enforced disappearance and arbitrary detention if forced back, said Amnesty International.

At least 380 refugees, including children, have been informed by the Danish Immigration Service that they will have to return to Syria after Denmark deemed Damascus and its surrounding area safe for return. Their temporary protection status, and therefore residence permits, have been revoked. Many of them are still waiting for their case to be finally decided in appeal.

Amnesty International understands that 39 people have received a final decision on their case and are at risk of being deported as soon as Denmark re-establishes diplomatic ties with the Syrian regime.

“Having escaped a warzone, at least 39 refugees who have had their final decision, are now facing the stark prospect of ‘voluntarily’ returning to Syria or being taken to return centres to await deportation. The destiny of hundreds more is still unknown,” said Amnesty International’s Europe Director, Nils Muižnieks.

“It beggars belief that Danish authorities could deem certain parts of Syria – a country where people are routinely detained, disappeared and tortured – safe for return.”

Between 1 January 2020 and 1 April 2021, Denmark stripped at least 380 Syrian refugees of their residency permits or did not renew their residency permit at the Danish Immigration Service. They were asked to return to so called “safe zones” in Syria.

Deportations are not happening at the moment due to lack of diplomatic ties. Those affected are supposed to stay in the return centres until deportations resume – or until they decide to return to Syria “voluntarily”.

Research by Amnesty International has found that civilians who have returned to Syrian government-controlled areas, including to Damascus, are requested to go through a “security clearance”. This involves interrogation by Syrian security forces. Amnesty International considers these forces to be responsible for widespread and systematic human rights violations and abuses constituting crimes against humanity, including the use of torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances.

“Placing refugees in return centres indefinitely, without access to work or education, puts pressure on them to return. Forcing them back to Syria, even indirectly, would put them at real risk of torture and other serious abuses and would constitute a violation of international law,” said Nils Muižnieks.

“Danish authorities must reverse this unconscionable decision to revoke temporary protection status for Syrians and end the targeting of these refugees who have already been forced to flee their homes and families.”

For more information or to arrange an interview contact  Stefan Simanowitz at press@amnesty.org or call +44 (0) 20 7413 5566. Malene Haakansson mhaakansson@amnesty.dk +45 25652075

Today Amnesty International launched a global Urgent Action on this situation - https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur18/4010/2021/en/

BACKGROUND

The Danish conclusion that Syria is safe for returns goes against the assessments of international experts on Syria and the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

People in return centres in Denmark are not permitted to work or pursue their education. Due to their irregular migration status, they are also ineligible for government benefits.

Last year, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said she aimed to reduce asylum applications to zero. The country decided to reassess the temporary permits of around 900 refugees last year and with the latest Damascus decision, the number stripped of residency has risen to 380 refugees.