New Danish assessment makes future uncertain for Syrian asylum seekers

An assessment by the Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen) of the security situation in Syria’s Damascus province could affect refugees from that region who seek asylum in Denmark, and those already granted it.

New Danish assessment makes future uncertain for Syrian asylum seekers
File photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Ritzau Scanpix

For the first time since 2013, the Danish immigration agency does not consider the situation across all of Syria to automatically qualify refugees from the Middle Eastern country for temporary asylum status.

Specifically, this could affect the cases of persons from the Damascus province, the Ministry of Immigration and Integration stated in a press statement Thursday evening.

The decision was made on the basis of a report on conditions in Syria published by the Immigration Service on February 21st, the statement said.

The agency considered there to be a “general improvement of conditions in government-controlled areas in Syria, including the Damascus province in particular,” the ministry wrote.

Asylum seekers who come to Denmark from Damascus province will therefore no longer automatically be given temporary asylum based on conditions of conflict in the Syrian province.

The Refugee Appeals Board (Flygtningenævnet) has also changed its assessment of the situation in Syria. The board made its decision after several months’ work, including a visit to the country, deputy director Anders Dorph told Ritzau.

“We went to Damascus in March (2018) and made a report. We were there again in November. It is our view that there has been a long period in which there has not been a large number of combat situations,” Dorph said.

Both Danish authorities now consider combat and civilian losses in Syria to be “geographically limited”.

As such, returning to the Damascus province will no longer be considered to put the safety of asylum seekers under threat, without the presence of other factors.

“Being in the area is not on its own cause for asylum,” Dorph said.

The change in the view taken by the two agencies could affect some Syrians already in Denmark, as well as those who seek asylum in future.

Temporary asylum status (midlertidig beskyttelsesstatus) is given one year at a time. In cases in which people have been granted asylum on the basis that it would be dangerous to return to Damascus province, that status could be revoked, if that was the sole reason for granting asylum.

The Refugee Appeals Board is the body with which Immigration Service decisions can be appealed.

Dorph told Ritzau that, since 2015, 4,700 people had been granted temporary asylum status based solely on the reason that it would be dangerous to return home.

It is not clear from initial reporting how many of these may now face having to return to Damascus province, or what other factors, including, for example, political persecution, can affect outcomes.

The new position taken by authorities could later be extended to other parts of Syria, according to the appeals board director.

“We believe we have information to cover Damascus province,” he said to Ritzau.

“I cannot rule out other areas, namely government-controlled areas, where we may be able to make the same assessment. But initially, we will look at cases from Damascus province,” he said.

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Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.


Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.