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Danish government ‘withheld security report’ on children in Syrian camps

The government is suspected – by its own political allies in parliament – of withholding a 2019 report by police intelligence agency PET on Danish children in camps in Syria.

Danish government 'withheld security report' on children in Syrian camps
Al-Hol displacement camp in Hasaka governorate, Syria. File photo: Ali Hashisho/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

According to the report by newspaper Ekstra Bladet,  PET concluded in the spring of 2019 that the children – who are in the camps because their parents travelled to Syria to support militant groups – do not pose a threat to Danish security.

But the report was not made public by the government until March 2020.

The government has long resisted repatriating Danish nationals, including children, from the Syrian camps of Al-Hol and Al-Roj.

PET concluded in spring 2019 that Danish children in the camps did not pose a threat to Danish security but risked permanent damage and radicalisation if they were forced to remain in the camps, according to Ekstra Bladet’s report, which is based on several anonymous sources with knowledge of the matter.

The government did not release the conclusions of the report to the public until March 2020, when Denmark was locked down due to the coronavirus.

The newspaper reports that the Ministry of Justice received the PET assessment as early as spring 2019. But its contents were not made public until the following year, despite significant political and societal debate over the issue during 2019.

In the autumn of last year, the government stood by its position that it would not intervene to help return the children to Denmark.

Three parties normally allied to the government on Denmark’s left have expressed criticism of its conduct over the report.

“I cannot see any reason to withhold the report, either technically or reasonably,” Red Green Alliance justice spokesperson Rosa Lund told Ritzau.

Lund’s party supports repatriating the children and has said it will summon justice minister Nick Hækkerup to a parliamentary hearing.

In a written comment, Hækkerup admitted that it took too long for the report to be released, but said that the delay was due to updates to the risk assessment made by the security service.

“This should be seen in light of the major terror attacks the world saw during 2019 and which gave PET cause to update its draft risk assessment on several occasions,” the minister told Ekstra Bladet.

But no change was made to the agency’s assessment in relation to the children, according to the newspaper.

PET’s terror risk assessment for Denmark has been issued annually since 2012 through the agency’s Centre for Terror Analysis (CTA).

The assessment in relation to the Syrian camp children states that “based on CTA’s assessment it is unlikely that an actual terror threat is posed by children of persons who travelled from Denmark to conflict zones. That is connected, first and foremost, to the current young age of the children”.

READ ALSO: Denmark urged to react over children stranded in Syrian camp

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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.

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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.

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