Danish refugee board allows Syrians to retain asylum status

The Danish Refugee Appeals Board, Flygtningenævnet, has ruled on six cases involving Syrian refugees who risked losing their asylum status.

Danish refugee board allows Syrians to retain asylum status
A file photo showing refugees in Copenhagen in 2015. Photo: Simon Læssøe / Ritzau Scanpix

The cases are seen as having put to the test the official policy to return refugees to their source countries once it is deemed safe to do so, established with the advent of the so-called ‘paradigm change’ bill.

The bill, passed by parliament earlier this year under the previous government, established as an official position the long-term aim of repatriating people granted asylum in Denmark.

But the six cases involving Syrian refugees all resulted in the individuals’ stays in Denmark being extended.

The outcomes mean that new minister for immigration and integration Mattias Tesfaye has avoided being the first Western immigration minister to return Syrian refugees, Dagbladet Information reports.

The cases hinged on the Danish Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen, DIS) being able to demonstrate improved security in Syria, the newspaper writes.

But the appeals board did not find that the refugees could be returned.

All were given permission to retain asylum status in Denmark and some were adjudged to now have stronger cases for asylum, according to the report.

Should Denmark at a later stage rule that Syrian refugees should be returned, it would likely be the first Western state to revoke asylum for nationals of the Middle Eastern country, going against UN recommendations.

But the six cases could form a precedent which results in the extension of asylum status by DIS for thousands of other refugees, Dagbladet Information writes.

DIS officials travelled to Damascus with Danish Refugee Council staff last year in order to assess safety in the Syrian capital.

A report published in February did not contain specific recommendations but concluded that security had significantly improved in 2018 in Damascus, which is under the control of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The Danish Refugee Appeals Board agreed with DIS that current conditions in Damascus were not of a character which would automatically place anybody in the area at risk of being attacked, Information writes. But current security conditions must also not appear to be temporary in character.

The appeals board did not make a direct judgement on this aspect.

Factors such as whether an individual had spent time in opposition-controlled areas, or had family members connected with opposition factions may influence the security of a person returning to Syria, the board found.

Therefore, although being in Damascus was not deemed to constitute an immediate safety risk in isolation, the unpredictable nature of the treatment of individuals by authorities in Syria — rather than general conditions in the country — was considered sufficient to allow protected persons to retain their asylum status.

READ ALSO: Denmark's new government to change rule for refugees, but few will benefit

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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.