Denmark prepared to get tougher on jihadists

Government coalition parties are in agreement that individuals suspected of aspiring to fight abroad should have their passports confiscated or their resident permits rescinded, but they're not yet sure how to do it.

Denmark prepared to get tougher on jihadists
Kurdish Peshmerga fighters hold a position during fighting against Isis militants in Rashad on September 11th, 2014. Photo: JM Lopez/Scanpix
The Danish government now appears ready to take a tougher stance against Danish citizens who travel abroad to participate in the fighting in Syria and Iraq. 
The newly-appointed interior minister and new leader of the Social Liberals (Radikale), Morten Østergaard, said on Thursday that Denmark should confiscate the passport of anyone suspected of being an aspiring jihadist. 
“This nuisance must be stopped by all means. If that includes Denmark following the lead of other countries and taking passports from people, then we’ll do that. It must be stopped and punished,” Østergaard told BT. 
The government is also prepared to rescind the resident permits of any non-citizens who engage in foreign fighting. Part of a coming proposal from the Justice Ministry calls for "residency consequences for foreigners living in Denmark if the person in question travels to participate in an armed conflict" according to DR, which has seen the coming proposal.
"We are saying to foreigners who live in Denmark and are contemplating traveling to Syria, for example, and joining up with Isis: 'Now you are getting a warning and we naturally hope that it can help you reconsider'," the justice minister, Karen Hækkerup of the Social Democrats, told DR. 

Among the countries that have proposed similar actions are Norway and France, and there are calls to do the same in Austria. Denmark first signalled a willingness to crack down on jihadists in early July. 
While both government coalition parties agree with the idea of punishing foreign fighters, they seem unsure of how to implement it. Social Democrats spokeswoman Trine Bramsen said the government would reveal further details when it releases a new comprehensive anti-jihadist package, while Østergaard told DR that the parties would have to figure out the legal framework for confiscating passports. 
“My position is that if someone is on their way down to help the Islamic State with their brutality, it should be stopped. We are obligated to stop Danish citizens from going to Syria and committing serious offences. There is no doubt that no Danes should be going to Syria,” he said. 
Bramsen admitted that merely taking the passports of suspected jihadists won’t solve the problem. 
“It can’t stand alone and we know that what works best is prevention. But clearly, if it can be a hindrance to just one person who is looking to fight abroad, then it is something that we are very willing to do as part of a strategy that we will launch within a few weeks,” she told Politiken.
The Danish People’s Party, which has previously called for the government to take action against jihadists, gave the government faint praise. 
“It is good, but it is still too weak and it is too late. And it is also a bit embarrassing to see how everyone is suddenly very busy talking about immigration policies and Syrian warriors because an election is getting closer,” party spokesperson Martin Henriksen told Jyllands-Posten. 
Opposition party Venstre, meanwhile, is suggesting that any Danish citizen who travels to Syria or northern Iraq without special permission from the Justice Ministry should face the automatic loss of their citizenship and up to six years in prison. 
"We need to put an end to people coming back to this country after being radicalised and putting our national security in jeopardy. They should know that you can't just go down to Syria, engage in terror and then come home again," Venstre spokesman Martin Geersten told Berlingske. 
At least 100 Danes have joined the fighting in Syria and according to The Economist, Denmark has the second highest proportion of jihadists, behind only Belgium. 

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‘I can’t go back’: Syrian refugees in Denmark face limbo after status revoked

Bilal Alkale's family is among the hundred or so Syrian refugees in Denmark whose lives are on hold amid an insufferable legal limbo -- their temporary residency permits have been revoked but they can't be deported. Now, they have no rights.

Syrian refugee Bilal Alkale and his daughter Rawan at their home in Lundby, Denmark on November 17th 2021. 
Syrian refugee Bilal Alkale and his daughter Rawan at their home in Lundby, Denmark on November 17th 2021. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

Alkale, who until recently ran his own small transportation company in Denmark, found out in March he wasn’t allowed to stay in the Scandinavian country where he has lived as a refugee since 2014, as Copenhagen now considers it safe for Syrians to return to Damascus.

His wife and three of his four children were also affected by the decision taken by Danish authorities.

Once the ruling was confirmed on appeal in late September — like 40 percent of some 200 other cases examined so far — Alkale and his family were ordered to leave.

READ ALSO: Danish refugee board overturns decisions to send home Syrians

They were told that if they didn’t go voluntarily, they would be placed in a detention centre.

The family has refused to leave.

Normally they would have been deported by now, but since Copenhagen has no diplomatic relations with Damascus, they can’t be. And so they wait.

Days and weeks go by without any news from the authorities.

In the meantime, the family has been stripped of their rights in Denmark.

Alkale can’t sleep, his eyes riveted on his phone as he keeps checking his messages.

“What will become of me now?” the 51-year-old asks.

“Everything is off. The kids aren’t going to school, and I don’t have work,” he says, the despair visible on his weary face as he sits in the living room of the home he refurbished himself in the small village of Lundby, an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Copenhagen.

“All this so people will get annoyed enough to leave Denmark.”

For him, returning to Syria means certain death.  

“I can’t go back, I’m wanted,” he tells AFP.

And yet, he has no way to earn a living here.

“As a foreigner staying illegally in Denmark, your rights are very limited,” notes his lawyer Niels-Erik Hansen, who has applied for new residency permits for the family.

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, saying “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

The decision was later widened to include the neighbouring region of Rif Dimashq.

Despite a wave of Danish and international criticism, the Social Democratic government — which has pursued one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies — has refused to budge.


The Alkale family is considering leaving for another European country, even though they risk being sent back to Denmark. 

Alkale’s oldest child was already over the age of 18 when they arrived in Denmark and therefore has her own residency permit, currently under review.

Of the three other children, only the youngest, 10-year-old Rawan, still has the carefree ways of a child.

Majed, 14, says he’s “bummed”, while Said, 17, who was studying to prepare for professional chef school, says he now has no idea what his future holds.

Only a handful of Syrians have so far been placed in detention centres, regularly criticised for poor sanitary conditions.

Asmaa al-Natour and her husband Omar are among the few.

They live in the Sjælsmark camp, a former army barracks surrounded by barbed wire and run by the prisons system since late October.

“This centre should disappear, it’s not good for humans, or even for animals. There are even rats,” says al-Natour.


 The couple, who have two sons aged 21 and 25, arrived in Denmark in 2014.

“My husband and I opened a shop selling Arabic products, it was going well. Then I decided to resume my studies, but now everything has just stopped,” says al-Natour, who “just wants to get (her) life back.” 

“Going back to Syria means going to prison, or even death, since we’re opposed to Bashar al-Assad. He’s a criminal.”

Niels-Erik Hansen, who also represents this couple, says his clients are being “held hostage by the Danish authorities.”

The government is trying “to spread the message that ‘in Denmark, we almost deport to Syria’,” he says.

Amnesty International recently criticised Syrian security forces’ use of violence against dozens of refugees who returned home.

Danish authorities meanwhile insist it’s safe for Syrians to go back.

“If you aren’t personally persecuted … there haven’t been acts of war in Damascus for several years now. And that is why it is possible for some to go back,” the government’s spokesman for migration, Rasmus Stoklund, tells AFP.

Some 35,500 Syrians currently live in Denmark, more than half of whom arrived in 2015, according to official statistics.