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ISLAM

Denmark presents new anti-jihadist strategy

The government's new plan calls for a carrot and stick approach to combat "the new challenges with extremism faced by Denmark".

Denmark presents new anti-jihadist strategy
The new strategy was presented on Friday by Karen Hækkerup and Manu Sareen. Photo: Jonas Skovbjerg Fogh/Scanpix
The Danish government on Friday announced a plan for combatting radicalization and extremism and slowing the stream of Danish citizens who fight in foreign wars. 
 
The plan, which has been hinted at since July, includes a call to confiscate the passports or rescind the resident permits of anyone who fights in Syria or northern Iraq. 
 
Besides the punitive measures, the government will also introduce new prevention strategies including a national hotline for concerned parents, a corps of ‘mentors’ to counsel at-risk individuals and the creation of a new national exit center to support those looking to leave the extremist environment. 
 
“We will make strong efforts with preventive measures, but at the same time we will also hit hard with concrete consequences for those who continue down the wrong path. To them, I would say that if despite all of the warnings they decided to go abroad to engage in armed conflict, they are not welcome back in Denmark. We will take their resident permits. And Danish citizens will be imprisoned when they come home,” the justice minister, Karen Hækkerup, said in a press release. 
 
At least 100 Danes have joined the fighting in Syria, with no fewer than 15 of them dying in combat. According to The Economist, Denmark has the second highest proportion of jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, behind only Belgium. 
 
The minister for social affairs, Manu Sareen, said that stopping potential jihadists before they leave for war is key to the government’s strategy. 
 
“We need to cut off the food chain to extremist environments and do everything we can to intervene early and precent people from becoming radicalized. We are currently seeing many young people killed in Syria or returning back deeply radicalized and posing a security risk to our society,” Sareen said. 
 
The Danish Security and Intelligence Service (Politiets Efterretningstjeneste – PET) has warned that Danes returning from conflict abroad can “increase the terror threat against Denmark”. 
 
In August, a Danish citizen who fought alongside Isis in Syria warned that the jihadists would soon carry out attacks within Denmark.
 
“Isis has said that all infidels should be battled. They should be eliminated and soon it will be Denmark’s turn,” the 27-year-old, identified as ÖA, told Politiken.
 
Denmark’s new anti-extremism plan also calls for increased international cooperation, including the formation of a Nordic network aimed at preventing radicalization. 

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SYRIA

‘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.

READ ALSO:

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.

READ ALSO:

 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.

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