LONDON: Denmark has come under criticism for becoming the first European nation to tell Syrian refugees they must return to their home country.
The Scandinavian nation has stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their residency permits after it determined Damascus and the surrounding area to be safe.
Human rights groups have spoken out against Copenhagen’s move to send people back to a country that remains ravaged by war.
“That the Danish government is seeking to force people back into the hands of this brutal regime is an appalling affront to refugee law and people’s right to be safe from persecution,” Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International UK, told the Daily Mail.
“This reckless violation of Denmark’s duty to provide asylum also risks increasing incentives for other countries to abandon their own obligations to Syrian refugees,” he added.
“Not only will this put the lives of even more women, men and children at risk. It will add to reasons that cause people to travel ever further afield in search of safety and security for themselves and their family.”
The government said migrants will be sent to Danish deportation camps, but will not be forced to leave.
However, rights groups say the government is trying to give refugees no option but to return to Syria.
Danish Immigration Minister Mattias Tesfaye said last month that the country had been “open and honest from the start” with refugees coming from Syria.
“We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary. It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed,” he added.
“We must give people protection for as long as it is needed. But when conditions in the home country improve, a former refugee should return home and re-establish a life there.”
While Germany had previously ruled that criminals can be deported to Syria, Denmark is the first country in Europe to say refugees can be returned.
The decision means that 350 Syrians will have their temporary protection permits reviewed. This follows some 900 refugees from Damascus who had their cases reassessed last year.
Michala Bendixen, from the rights group Refugees Welcome, said Syrian refugees now face a “very, very tragic situation,” and will be forced from their homes, jobs and studies and into Danish deportation camps.
She told the Daily Telegraph that they face years of limbo. “The government hopes that they will go voluntarily, that they will just give up and go on their own,” she said.
Denmark’s move comes as UN investigators said thousands of civilians had endured “unimaginable suffering” in the war-torn country, including torture, sexual violence and death in detention in the last decade of conflict.
In a report released on Monday, the UN said people arrested by the Assad regime or allied forces had been subjected to inhumane treatment and torture, including rape.
“At least 20 different horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,” the report said.
“These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling off nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tyre and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.”
Tens of thousands of civilians who were detained are unaccounted for, with no trace of their whereabouts, the UN said.