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Looted Syrian antiquities for sale in Denmark: police

Danish police are investigating the attempted sale of looted Syrian antiquities within Denmark, North Zealand Police told broadcaster DR on Tuesday.

Looted Syrian antiquities for sale in Denmark: police
A file photo from March 2016 shows part of the ancient Syrian city of Palmyra, after government troops recaptured the UNESCO world heritage site from Isis jihadists on. Photo: Maher Al Mounes/AFP/Scan
North Zealand Police has obtained photos allegedly showing ancient relics that have been shopped around on the Danish market. Among the items is a Koran that is being sold as one of the original copies of the Islamic holy book, but which experts believe is a fake. 
 
Also allegedly being offered for purchase in Denmark are a set of medicine bottles dating as far back as the 1700s that could sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars on the black market. 
 
“The items are very valuable and if they are authentic, they are clearly items of cultural heritage,” Nibal Muhesen, a professor at the University of Copenhagen’s Department of Cross-Cultural and Regional Studies, told DR. 
 
According to DR, Danish police do not believe that the items are physically in Denmark but rather that the photos of them have been circulated within the Danish black market. 
 
It’s not unusual that looted artefacts from war zones would end up for sale in Europe. In December, Swiss authorities seized cultural relics looted from Syria's ancient city of Palmyra, as well as from Libya and Yemen, which were being stored in Geneva's free ports. 
 
 
The confiscated objects, from the third and fourth centuries, include ahead of Aphrodite and two funereal bas-reliefs.
 
Joachim Meyer, the curator of the Copenhagen museum The David Collection, said that stolen goods and fake cultural relics often come out of war zones. Meyer, who was the one to determine that the Koran was a fake, said Western museums are well aware of the risk that they may be offered stolen or looted items. 
 
“We can see that auction houses, art dealers and even we ourselves are much more aware of where these things are coming from and whether they have a proper back story so that we can determine if the items were part of the international art trade long before the wars broke out in Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq,” he told DR. 
 

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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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