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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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POLITICS

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.

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