By Johannes Birkebaek and Nikolaj Skydsgaard
COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The Danish Refugee Appeals Board on Friday deemed it safe for Syrian refugees to return to Latakia province in the western part of the country, raising concerns at the UN Refugee Agency.
When the Danish Immigration Service decides to take away a refugee’s residency permit, the case automatically goes to the appeals board, the highest authority in asylum cases in Denmark, for consideration.
The province of Latakia, a stronghold of the Bashar al Assad government bordering the Mediterranean Sea, has not seen the same amount of combat as central and eastern provinces.
The appeals board said in a statement that improved security in the province made it safe for refugees to return.
Since 2019, Denmark has revoked residency permits for 150 Syrian nationals from Damascus and the surrounding area out of more than 1,300 cases reviewed, according to the Immigration Service.
A UN Refugee Agency spokeswoman called Denmark’s decision “concerning” and said the agency did not consider improvements in the security situation in Syria to be enough “to justify ending international protection for any group of refugees”.
In 2021, European lawmakers criticized Denmark for attempting to send refugees back to Damascus after Danish authorities claimed conditions in the capital had improved.
“We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary and that the permit can be revoked if the need for protection ceases to exist,” then Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye told Reuters at the time.
Denmark and Hungary are the only two EU countries to have revoked residency permits for Syrian refugees, according to Amnesty International.
Those refugees in Denmark have been sent to return centres or left the country voluntarily.
(Reporting by Johannes Birkebaek and Nikolaj Skydsgaard; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Nick Macfie)
The news that Denmark has named the Syrian province of Idlib safe for returning refugees has been met with both praise and concern.
On Tuesday, the Danish government announced that it will no longer accept applications from Syrian refugees seeking asylum on the grounds that they face persecution in Idlib. The move, which follows a similar decision by neighboring Sweden, could potentially leave thousands of refugees without the hope of finding safety in Europe.
At the same time, some experts have applauded Denmark’s decision. They argue that while it is true that Idlib is not completely free from danger, there is now a higher degree of stability and security in the region than there was before.
The UNHCR, however, is worried that the decision ignores the fact that Idlib is still a war zone. The organization fears that this could potentially cause people—who have already been through a great deal of suffering—to return to an environment of violence and instability.
Overall, the Danish decision has sparked a heated debate both in the international community and at home. For the thousands of refugees who are desperate for a safe haven, the outcome of this debate could mean the difference between life and death.