Denmark: Faulty country of origin reports lead to flawed refugee policies

We, the undersigned analysts, researchers and other experts on the Syrian context, strongly condemn the Danish government’s decision to end “temporary protection” for Syrian refugees in Damascus. This ruling used our testimony at the Danish Immigration Service for a Home Country (COI) report on Damascus, but we do not acknowledge our views in subsequent government findings or policies, nor do we consider more than Denmark’s Syrian refugee policy fully reflects the real conditions on the ground. We urge the Danish government to revise its findings on Damascus to better reflect the continuing risks facing potential returnees and to change its current refugee policy accordingly.

We believe that the conditions currently do not exist anywhere in Syria for a safe return and that any return must be voluntary, safe and dignified, as the EU and UNHCR have made clear. We call on the Danish authorities to respect the position set out in last month’s European Parliament resolution, which: “reminds all Member States that Syria is not a safe country to return to; believes that any return must be safe, voluntary, dignified and informed, in accordance with the EU’s stated position; calls on all EU Member States to refrain from reorienting national policies towards depriving certain categories of Syrians of their protected status and to reverse this trend if they have already implemented such policies. “

In 2019, Danish authorities officially reclassified Damascus as “safe” in their COI report regarding conditions in Damascus and rural Damascus. While COI reports are regularly used by governmental and European agencies to inform the asylum decision-making process along thematic, country-specific or case-specific axes, we believe that our expert opinion , our background information and further advice to the Danish immigration service was underestimated.

By reclassifying Damascus as safe, the Danish authorities finally decided that refugees from the Syrian capital who had applied for asylum and received subsidiary protection in Denmark could, in the future, have their temporary residence permits terminated. As a result, last month (March 2021), the Danish government informed 94 Syrian refugees in the country that they would not have their residence permits renewed.

Damascus may not have seen active conflict hostilities since May 2018 – but that doesn’t mean that it has become safe for refugees to return to the Syrian capital. Many of the main drivers of displacement from Syria remain, as the majority of refugees have fled, and continue to fear, the government security apparatus, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture, military conscription, harassment and discrimination.

The Syrian government and its security apparatus have consistently persecuted those who have expressed dissent or expressed opposition, including through arbitrary detention, torture and harassment of critics and their relatives. Despite amnesties and declarations to the contrary, the Syrian government has yet to demonstrate a change in its conduct. Even where individuals obtained government security guarantees, abuses followed. There is a risk for anyone who has fled the country or has spoken out against the government, actions perceived as disloyalty, which can lead to suspicion, punishment or arbitrary detention. Meanwhile, the deterioration of socio-economic and humanitarian conditions in Damascus and its surroundings is such that it has created new and aggravated protection risks that do not correspond to a safe, dignified and voluntary return. In its 2021 protection assessment, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said it “considers changes in objective circumstances in Syria, including relative improvements in security in parts of the country. territory, are not of a fundamental, stable and lasting character, so that to justify the cessation of refugee status. “

There is an urgent need to rethink policies that differentiate the risk of return posed to Syrian refugees who fled the country due to individual fears of persecution, as well as those who fled the general conditions of conflict. Danish policy could lead to a worrying trend in European refugee policy towards revocation of residence and other restrictions with regard to the latter group, but as UNHCR points out: “members of a larger entity, without being individually distinguished, may become the target of repercussions by different actors because of real or perceived support for another party to the conflict ”, and that“ in these situations, the risk of suffering harm is serious and real, and in no way diminished by the fact that the data subject may not be targeted on an individual basis. The highly localized nature of the conflict has meant that simply coming from a particular area of ​​the capital could pose protection risks for returning refugees, while authorities in Damascus have at their disposal an incredibly wide range of options. laws, decrees and articles to arrest and arrest. detain returning refugees for alleged crimes committed since leaving the country As such, as a matter of principle, no Syrian can currently be reasonably considered safe enough to withdraw their protected status in order to force their return to Damascus or elsewhere in Syria.

Signatories,

Ammar Hamou, Syria Direct

Bente Scheller, Heinrich Boell Foundation

COAR Global

Jennifer Cafarella (on behalf of Christopher Kozak formerly of ISW)

Jusoor for Studies Center

Omran Center for Strategic Studies

Sara Kayyali, Human Rights Watch

Suhail al-Ghazi, Syrian researcher and non-resident researcher at Tahrir Institute for Middle East Politics


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