Wednesday, January 19

Denmark could face legal action over attempts to return Syrian refugees | Denmark

Denmark’s attempt to return hundreds of Syrians to Damascus after it deemed the city safe “will set a dangerous precedent” for other countries to do the same, say lawyers preparing to take the Danish government before the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). the question.

Danish authorities began rejecting Syrian refugees’ applications for renewal of temporary residence status last summer, justifying the move because a report had found that the security situation in some parts of the country had “significantly improved.” Around 1,200 Damascus people currently living in Denmark are believed to be affected by the policy.

Guernica 37, a London-based chamber that provides free and affordable assistance in transnational justice and human rights cases, is working with asylum lawyers and affected families in Denmark to challenge government policy. under the principle of the Geneva Convention of “no return. Neither the UN nor other countries consider Damascus to be safe.

“The situation in Denmark is deeply worrying. While the risk of direct conflict-related violence may have decreased in some parts of Syria, the risk of political violence remains as great as ever, and refugees returning from Europe are under attack by regime security forces. ” says Guernica’s strategy note 37.

“If the Danish government’s efforts to return refugees to Syria by force are successful, it will set a dangerous precedent, which is likely to be followed by several other European states.”

Denmark is home to 5.8 million people, of whom some 500,000 were born abroad and 35,000 are Syrian. In recent years, however, the Scandinavian country’s reputation for tolerance and openness has been affected by the rise of the far-right Danish People’s Party.

Observers say the new stance on Syrian refugees, which also applies to refugees from other countries, although their numbers are lower, is an attempt by the center-left coalition in the government to win back votes.

Since Denmark does not have diplomatic relations with the Bashar al-Assad regime, Syrian refugees who are denied residency renewal face the possibility of being held indefinitely in detention centers.

And on a cruel whim, because the Danish authorities acknowledge that Syrian men are at risk of being drafted into the military or punished for evading compulsory military service, the majority of those affected appear to be women and older people, many of them who are facing separation from their families. .

Ghalia, a 27-year-old who was reunited with her parents and siblings when she arrived in Denmark in 2015, had her residence permit revoked in March. She is the only member of her family affected.

While Ghalia appeals against the decision, the uncertainty and worry of being separated again have left her unable to sleep, she said.

“I feel nothing but fear of going into the immigration center by myself, but I can’t go back to Syria… it’s as if they think we have a choice, but if I go back, they will arrest me. You can’t do anything at the immigration centers, you can’t work, you can’t study. It is like a prison. I’ll just waste my life there. “

Carl Buckley, the lawyer leading the Guernica 37 efforts, said that taking a case to the ECHR in Strasbourg is one of several potential avenues that affected Syrians could turn to if they exhaust the appeal procedure in Denmark.

He said: “The ECHR is a slow system, but we would make a request asking the court to consider interim measures, which would involve ordering Denmark to stop revoking residencies until a substantive complaint has been considered and resolved.

“In theory, that could happen pretty quickly. And while it would only apply to one person’s case, we hope Denmark will consider it carefully or they will end up with thousands of similar apps. “

Guernica 37 and a consortium of 150 Danish law firms working on asylum cases hope that it will not be necessary to take the Danish government to court.

Faeza, 25, a nurse working in the northern city of Hillerrød, was treating Covid patients when Danish immigration services invited her for an interview in August last year. “They interviewed me for eight hours. They asked me over and over, why had I not returned to Syria? I said because it wasn’t safe. “

His permit was revoked in January this year and he spent many stressful months appealing against the decision: like Ghalia, Faeza was the only person in his family whose permit had been revoked. Although the ruling was overturned in July, she remains terrified of being questioned again and of the prospect of returning to Syria alone. “I’m happy with the decision,” she said, “but now I’m worried [in case it happens again]. As Syrian refugees, we are subject to unfair decisions. “

Syrian refugees react to Denmark's decision to repatriate with a sit-in in front of Denmark's parliament building
Syrian refugees react to the decision to repatriate with a sit-in at the Danish parliament building in Copenhagen on May 21, 2021. Photograph: Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

Jens Rye-Andersen, an Aalborg-based immigration lawyer, said he believes the rate at which residence permits are revoked has slowed as a result of widespread criticism from the UN, human rights groups and the Danish public. .

“I think the government is listening to us and I hope they abandon the plans for the time being,” he said.

“There have been a lot of changes in the asylum system in the last two years and it is clearly not working very well. Experts who compiled the initial report the government used to show that the security situation in Syria has improved say their work has been misquoted. So I think the government has no choice but to reconsider. “

In 2018, hundreds of Somalis in Denmark had their permits revoked under a similar scheme. Some won their call to stay but, according to the Danish Refugee Council, many left Denmark and disappeared, possibly to live without status in another country.

For Ghalia, whose appeals court appointment was delayed because her lawyer was ill, the wait is agony.

“I got back to that point when I first came to Denmark and I feel powerless all the time,” he said.

“I have no control over my life and I feel like I have done nothing to deserve this.”

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