“I was at school when my best friend died next to me,” 14-year-old Amina told us, recounting her childhood in Syria.
“Everyone had to get under their tables, everyone was stressed and crying. The children were dying. We did not know what to do,” he added from Holland, where he now lives.
Syria was not a place for Amina and therefore, when she was only six years old, she made an arduous journey to safety, along with her mother and grandmother.
Amina is just one of 1,796 Syrian children interviewed by Save the Children for a recent report, “Anywhere but Syria.” The report found that after 10 years of conflict, 86 percent of Syrian children living in Lebanon, Turkey, Jordan and the Netherlands cannot imagine a future within the country in which they were born.
Syrians in Denmark have been welcomed into the country, enjoying the right to go to school, learn the language and integrate. There is no reason to think that refugee children in Denmark, like those in the Netherlands, want to return to Syria.
But recently it emerged that the Danish authorities are beginning to strip hundreds of Syrian refugees of their temporary residence permits and thus their protection. This week, my colleagues from Save the Children Denmark confirmed that at least 70 children are among those who could lose the refugee status that was introduced by lawmakers in the country in 2015.
Millions of Syrian children do not attend school
However, the children surveyed for our research in other countries knew what they were talking about. Syria is not a place where refugees can return.
Many children do not even have a home to return to. We know that there are arbitrary arrests and that those who return can be detained and interrogated, one of the horrors they were fleeing from in the first place.
The conflict has left the country in a deep economic crisis, and the latest UN figures show that 60 percent of the population does not have enough to eat, the highest number since the start of the crisis.
More than two million children do not go to school. Our research also found that even among children surveyed within Syria, one in three said they would rather live elsewhere. More than half said they are discriminated against within their communities.
Simply put, Syria is not prepared for the return of the refugees.
Even the Danish government has closed its embassy in Damascus “due to the security situation”. So why is Syria considered safe enough for Syrian refugee children, who have spent most or all of their childhood knowing only the war in their home country and being the least responsible for it?
A troubling precedent
Refugees in Denmark face a difficult decision: accept to return to Syria or refuse to return, in which case they will be sent to departure centers and become “foreigners” in the country where they have spent years working, studying and learning. the language and its customs. They will end up in limbo.
This is insensitive to any human being. But it will bring stress and insecurity especially to children. They will be taken away from their school, their friends, their homes, anything that makes them feel safe. We know that such a feeling of insecurity is extremely damaging to your mental well-being and can cause lasting damage.
The most disturbing thing about this announcement is the precedent it could set. What will prevent other refugee-hosting countries from doing the same?
There are an estimated one million Syrian refugees who have integrated into societies across Europe, including children like Amina, who has been haunted by nightmares for years but now speaks Dutch, goes to school and plays with her friends.
Will someone turn to her in the near future and tell her that the sense of security and belonging that she has built up over the past few years is about to crumble once again?
Children shouldn’t have to live with so much uncertainty and fear. Denmark was the first country to sign the Refugee Convention in 1951, but now it risks losing its reputation as a humane country that opened its doors to the world’s most vulnerable. The government should reverse this decision and reinstate residence permits as soon as possible.
Jeremy Stoner is Save the Children’s Regional Director for the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism