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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How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.