Danish government says it's safe for Syrian refugees to return, but Syrians are fighting back

Denmark stripped 94 asylum seekers of their residency permits in March

Syrian refugees Dania and Hussam are facing deportation from Denmark.  Courtsey of Dania and Hussam
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Many of the Syrian migrants facing deportation from Denmark are taking to social media to share their stories.

Denmark stripped 94 refugees of their residency permits after stating in March that Damascus, the Syrian capital under control of President Bashar Al Assad's regime, and its surrounds are safe.

It was the first such assessment from any European nation.

Syrian migrants now face languishing in deportation camps in Denmark or returning to the war-torn country from which they fled.

Among those facing that fate are siblings Dania, 22, and Hussam, 20, who have been living in Denmark since 2015.

They made it to Europe after a dangerous journey out of Syria through Damascus, where they were stopped at checkpoints and had to bribe military officers.

"If we come back, we risk being killed because it is not safe to go back again," Dania told The National.

"And then there is the insecurity about how a dictator-ruled country will react to citizens who have turned their backs on the country."

Dania, who has balanced a part-time job as a server, volunteering with the Danish Refugee Council and attending classes as a full-time pupil during her time in Denmark, is supposed to graduate from high school in June. Hussam would graduate next year.

Hussam said that apart from the threat of physical harm, deportation would destroy the life their small family has worked hard to build.

“We have worked hard to live up to the trust that Danish society has shown us," he said.

"Day by day, our connection to Denmark has grown. We have many Danish friends and a large network.

"We have built a great life and done everything we can so that we also show our gratitude and have a good life and a good future.

“We were already betrayed by our home country, which did not give us our rights, and we never expected that in Denmark we would be betrayed again.”

It is a sentiment echoed by many Syrians living in Denmark. Single mother of two Rasha Kairout shared her story on Facebook.

“Although I am a single mother, I have proven myself a good citizen and learnt the language and worked for two years in two jobs to secure my children's lives and future,” she wrote.

The policy shift is also affecting younger children, who face deportation along with their parents or separation from them.

Mohamed Alata wrote on Facebook: "Unfortunately, my mother received a denial of her residency ... a denial that also applies to my two little sisters, who are only 10 and 11 years old.

“The Danish Immigration Service does not relate to the factual situation in Syria and the conditions the country offers children and women, as well as the reasons that led us to flee from the country."

More testimonials on Twitter told stories of parents who had their status revoked while their children were allowed to stay in Denmark.

Danish officials insist the policy is in line with the level of protection needed.

"We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary," Denmark's Immigration Minister, Mattias Tesfaye, told The Telegraph this year.

"It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed."

Reports show Denmark reassessed the permits of 900 refugees last year, after Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the country was pursuing a goal of “zero asylum seekers".

In a March report, the UN High Commission for Refugees criticised the broader anti-migrant trend in Denmark and strongly urged Copenhagen to refrain from changes to the Danish Alien Act.

“Such measures are contrary to the foundational principles and spirit of the international and European system for the protection of refugees," the report said.

"UNHCR considers that the proposal, when implemented in practice, could lead to asylum seekers being transferred to countries where access to international protection is not guaranteed, or where they risk facing serious harm."

Society groups say the notion that Syria is safe enough for the diaspora is "ludicrous".

“It is completely devoid of reality,” said Mouaz Moustafa, executive director of the Syria Emergency Task Force in Washington.

“Syria is the most dangerous place you can be, particularly if you are Syrian.”

Mr Moustafa said his friend, Mazen Al Hamada, who was profiled by The Washington Post in March, was an example of what awaited Syrians who went home.

Mr Al Hamada endured regime torture in Syria and spoke out about his experience after leaving the country.

Despite receiving guarantees of safety from the regime before he repatriated, he was served a warrant for interrogation on his arrival just over a year ago.

"For a Syrian, that means you will be tortured to death,” Mr Moustafa said.

Mr Al Hamada’s whereabouts remain unknown.

“All refugees, whether they’ve spoken out against the regime or not, are looked at by the regime as people that left, that fled because they are somehow against the regime," Mr Moustafa said.

“To Assad, all of these people are potential terrorists.”

Omar Alshogre, the Syrian Emergency Task Force’s director of detainee affairs, is a survivor of regime torture who received refugee status in Sweden and attends school in Washington.

Mr Alshogre said deportation threats from Europe were cruel.

“People are living through so much fear every day," he said. "That’s psychological torture the Danish government is putting people through.”

Translations by Alysia Alexandra Grapek, Danish-American volunteer with the Danish Refugee Council