LONDON: A decision by the Danish government to potentially deny thousands of Syrian refugees the right to remain has been met with protests across the country.
Denmark has taken in around 32,000 Syrians since the start of their country’s conflict over a decade ago. Of those, about 5,000 were only granted temporary protected status.
In 2019, Copenhagen claimed that Damascus and several other Syrian regions were safe for refugees to return to.
The Danish government has expanded the number of areas in recent months, and recently began proceedings to return 380 people whose permanent asylum applications have been denied, with 900 having their status placed under review.
Protests broke out in 25 major towns and cities on Wednesday evening, with the largest outside Copenhagen’s town hall.
The Danish government has also started offering other Syrian refugees £25,000 ($35,000) if they choose to leave of their own accord.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen earlier this year said she wanted to reduce asylum seeker numbers to zero.
The center-left coalition government has also announced plans to cap the number of “non-Western” people living in certain parts of the country.
But Denmark is unable to enact forced deportations of Syrians because despite claiming areas controlled by the Assad regime to be safe, Copenhagen refuses to cooperate with it on due to its poor human rights record.
This has led to Denmark setting out plans to build a special detention center on the island of Langeland specifically to house people whose asylum has been refused but who cannot be returned home.
Various groups have said the government’s latest moves leave many Syrians, denied the right to remain in Denmark, with no real choices.
Refugees who have returned to Syria have faced arrest and torture by the regime, with some disappearing altogether into its notorious prison system.
Young men, meanwhile, also face conscription if they return. Remaining in Denmark, though, could mean an indefinite stay in a detention center.
Lisa Blinkenberg, a senior policy adviser for Amnesty International in Denmark, said Syrians who lost appeals to stay in the country are being left in limbo.
“There’s a risk that Syrian families will be divided in the future, even though they have lived in Denmark for years,” she told The Times.