Denmark’s decision on Syrian refugees in breach of ECHR, EU assessment and UNHCR’s thresholds

Denmark’s decision to withdraw protection for Syrian refugees from Damascus and Damascus countryside is in direct conflict with the official position of the European Commission and in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights, as well as the UNHCR’s protection thresholds.

In direct correspondence with SACD, the Danish Minister of Immigration and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye, has failed to adequately justify this decision or answer some of the key questions which have placed Denmark among the countries which are exerting pressure on Syrian refugees to return to what is an unsafe, and potentially deadly, situation in Assad-held areas of Syria.

Evidence Damascus and its countryside are not safe

This Annex provides additional supporting detail and material on several of the primary concerns outlined in our letter. The SACD asserts that Damascus is not safe for refugee return, and challenges this assumption, as well as the methodology of the country of origin reporting underpinning this position.

We also provide information that challenges the present application of this position in both policy and practice, through the failure to make individual case decisions in line with the cautionary principles, and without adequate acknowledgement of the individual risks faced by claimants.

Politics that led to Denmark’s dangerous policy

There are some 35000 Syrian refugees in Denmark, with most arriving in 2015 and 2016.

Their arrival coincided with the election of a right-wing government supported by a far-right Danish People’s Party (in Danish: Dansk Folkeparti, DF). While DF was not a part of the coalition government, it had a significant number of in the parliament to empower it to dominate the Danish political arena between 2015-2019.

Syrian regime is targeting returnees and Denmark’s government knows it

The Danish Immigration Service October report provides an assessment that “the number of security incidents in Damascus and Rural Damascus governorates had remarkably decreased in 2020 compared to the year before.”

This assessment is dangerously misleading as the threat facing any returnee remains gravely high. However, even the DIS’s report itself states this, in contradiction of the assessment, noting this in the sections which deals with profiles of people arrested at checkpoints where the report states, inter alia:

Experts interviewed for Danish Immigration Service report on Damascus condemn misuse of their interviews, most will not cooperate with DIS in the same way again

According to the responses from the researchers and experts on Syria, who were interviewed by the Danish Immigration Service for the Country of Origin report on Damascus and Damascus Countryside, the decision to remove temporary protection from Syrian refugees from these areas did not at all reflect the information they provided and most of them will refuse to collaborate with DIS in the future, or will do so under strict conditions to prevent the misuse of their interviews.