Denmark urged to react over children stranded in Syrian camp

The situation for 12 Danish citizens in the al-Hol refugee camp in northeastern Syria is reported to have become so serious that humanitarian organizations have urged the Scandinavian country to act.

Denmark urged to react over children stranded in Syrian camp
Women walk through al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria on April 1st. Photo: Ali Hashisho / Reuters / Ritzau Scanpix

Summer temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius have significantly worsened conditions, according to charity Save The Children.

The NGO’s Syria spokesperson Amjad Yamin urged Denmark to immediately take back the individuals. People living at the camp include women and children. Some adults may have travelled to the country in support of the Islamic State (Isis) terror group.

“You should take back your citizens now. Absolutely.

“If there are women who have committed crimes, they should naturally be prosecuted and punished in their home countries.

“But it is inhumane to allow children to remain under these conditions,” Yamin continued.

Many of the children at al-Hol are orphans and rely on help from older siblings or others, the spokesperson said.

“We met [on a recent inspection, ed.] a 17-year-old who was looking after five younger siblings, all under 12. That’s children taking care of children,” he said.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has also visited the camp during the summer.

The organisation reports poor hygiene including overflowing latrines and worms in tanks used for drinking water.

HRW senior researcher Letta Taylor hit out at Denmark and other countries for delaying decisions on whether to allow citizens to return.

“Foreign women and children are stuck indefinitely in a dusty hell in north eastern Syria while their home countries look the other way,” Taylor said in a press statement, according to Ritzau’s report.

The official position of the Danish government is that parents are responsible for the situations in which they place their children.

Due to security considerations, allowing women and children to return to Denmark must be considered on an individual basis in cases where the individuals have lived under Isis rule, according to the official line.

Rosa Lund, justice and foreign policy spokesperson with the left wing Red-Green Alliance, said Denmark “could not justify” that approach.

“It should be clear to everyone that an Isis prison camp is no place for children and that we should follow the French example and bring them home,” Lund said.

READ ALSO: 'It would be better if they had died in battle': Danish justice minister on returning Syria fighters

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‘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.


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.


 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.