Damascus bound: Stateless Kurdish man faces deportation from Denmark to the Syrian capital

Danish authorities want to send Isa Kali to Syrian capital, where conscription almost certainly awaits

Isa Kali grew up in the predominantly Kurdish region in north-east Syria. He fled the war in Syria in 2014 for Denmark, but now authorities there want to deport him to Damascus, which they deem ‘safe’. Isa Kali
Isa Kali grew up in the predominantly Kurdish region in north-east Syria. He fled the war in Syria in 2014 for Denmark, but now authorities there want to deport him to Damascus, which they deem ‘safe’. Isa Kali

Denmark has ordered the deportation of a Kurdish man from Syria as growing official hostility towards refugees living in the Scandinavian country means a new round of expulsions.

Isa Kali, who lives in Frederiksvaerk, is among several hundred refugees who have recently been informed by the authorities that their residencies will not be renewed and that they have 30 days to return to Damascus.

The prospect of returning to the capital of the war-torn country fills most Syrian refugees with dread, but for Mr Kali, who isn’t even from the city, it is also illogical.

Although Mr Kali, 28, worked in Damascus for four years as a labourer before the war, he is from a relatively poor Kurdish town close to the Turkish border and grew up stateless.

Before the Syrian conflict erupted the Kurds in Hassakeh, the north-eastern region where Mr Kali lived, were considered “foreigners” and ineligible for Syrian citizenship.

In March 2011, the Syrian regime decided to finally grant citizenship to tens of thousands of stateless Kurds living in the region, a move that was seen as a gesture to placate the ethnic minority and appease protesters at the start of the uprising. It also meant those Kurds could now join or be conscripted to the army.

I don’t understand their logic. They just seem to make a decision and want to enforce it no matter what. Isa Kali

After the war broke out and the citizenship rules were changed, he was frequently stopped at checkpoints in the city and told to get his citizenship papers in order so he could serve in the army.

“I didn’t want to go. I was either going to kill or be killed and I thought it was better to escape,” Mr Kali tells The National.

After one particularly threatening checkpoint encounter, Mr Kali decided it was time to leave.

“They told me that the next time I passed there without my Syrian ID card they were going to take me straight to the front line,” he said.

In a now familiar tale of many Syrian refugees in Europe, Mr Kali left Damascus in 2014, travelled through Turkey and boarded a lorry that took him all the way to Denmark.

Two of Mr Kali’s brothers also live in the country with their wives and children but neither has received a deportation order, though they both left Syria after the war.

Danish authorities say Mr Kali should return to Damascus, which they deem “safe”. They say he will not be conscripted into the military because he is Kurdish, not Syrian, seemingly failing to take into account the 2011 change in legislation.

Before leaving Syria he registered himself as a citizen but never received his new identification papers or passport.

“I don’t have family or friends in Damascus. I don’t understand their logic. They just seem to make a decision and want to enforce it no matter what,” he said.

Mr Kali’s parents and two other siblings still live in his home town 700 kilometres from Damascus, but reaching it safely would be practically impossible to do without paperwork.

Since the war broke out in 2011, north-eastern Syria has become a semi-autonomous enclave run by the Kurds, the country’s largest ethnic minority. The area shares control with government forces, which have a presence in security zones.

Since he arrived in Denmark in 2014, Mr Kali has learned Danish, secured a licence to drive lorries and completed a hygiene certificate to improve his job prospects. He was working in a plastics factory when he was first notified in December 2020 that his temporary residency would not be extended.

Despite the efforts of his lawyer, Mr Kali failed to convince the judge at his last hearing earlier this month of the serious risk to his life if he returned to Damascus. “We were in there for hours but it felt like the decision had already been made,” Mr Kali says. He has appealed the decision but, barring serious changes in Denmark’s anti-refugee policies, his chance of success is slim.

In a cruel twist of irony, Denmark cannot physically deport refugees back to Syria because the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations. Instead, deported refugees can either return “voluntarily” or be placed in deportation centres, where they are not allowed to work, study or participate in society.

Earlier this month, the Danish parliament backed a controversial law that will allow asylum seekers to be sent outside of Europe as their applications are processed.

At least 200 Syrians have had their residency permits revoked since mid-2020 after Denmark decided that Damascus was safe enough for their return. The decision has been criticised by human rights organisations internationally and prompted several protests against the decision in the country.

Updated: June 9, 2021 11:00 PM

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