Danish party suggests cooperation with Assad regime over return of Syrian refugees

The Danish Liberal party, the largest party in opposition, has suggested the country could find a way to cooperate with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to return refugees whose claims for asylum have been rejected or withdrawn.

Danish party suggests cooperation with Assad regime over return of Syrian refugees
Liberal party spokesperson for immigration and integration Mads Fuglede. Photo: Philip Davali/Ritzau Scanpix

Although consecutive governments have rejected all diplomatic cooperation with Assad’s regime, the Liberal party has suggested a change in policy to facilitate the return of refugees, newspaper Jyllands-Posten reported on Sunday.

The party’s immigration spokesman Mads Fuglede told the newspaper that the Liberals want “an agreement in which we get Syria to take back its citizens”.

“I envisage an agreement around the framework for sending people back (to Syria) – and some guarantees that they can return without being persecuted,” Fuglede said.

“If Denmark doesn’t think that can be done, we should push for dialogue with the Assad regime at EU level,” the Liberal lawmaker also said.

In a Facebook post on Sunday, Fuglede appeared to row back to some extent on the comments given to Jyllands-Posten, saying he was against “recognising” the Damascus regime.

“I want to stress that the Liberal party does not think Denmark should recognise the Assad regime,” he wrote, calling the regime a “criminal dictatorship which we in no way wish to rubber-stamp”.

“But we should discuss what to do with all the Syrian refugees in Europe as Syria has become safer around Damascus, and how they can safely return to their country,” he continued.

“But it is clear that if this can only be done by recognising Assad, then it can’t be done. Then we’ll have to find other options,” he also wrote.

Last year, Denmark began withdrawing residency permits from some Syrian refugees from the Damascus region, with immigration authorities now deeming that part of the Middle Eastern country safe for return. Syrian refugees in Denmark who could be returned to the area have spoken about the peril they may face if they are deported back to Syria.


Rejected asylum seekers and others with no legal right to reside in Denmark are normally accommodated at so-called ‘departure centres’ (udrejsecentre) if they do not agree to leave voluntarily and if Denmark has no repatriation arrangement in place with their home country. This is the case for refugees from Syria, because Denmark does not cooperate with the Assad regime.

Denmark is also signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents deportation of rejected asylum seekers if they risk torture or persecution in their home countries.

The Social Democratic government has already rejected the idea of discussing a repatriation arrangement with Assad.

“It would send the completely wrong signal that we consider Assad to be the victor in Syria,” the party’s immigration spokesman Rasmus Stoklund told Jyllands-Posten. Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod has also confirmed the government does not support the proposal, the newspaper writes.

Other parties have also pushed back against the Liberals’ apparent willingness to cooperate with Assad, whose regime is responsible for years of atrocities.

“It is completely wrong to cooperate with one of history’s worst dictators… just to look tough (on immigration). These are people we’re talking about,” Social Liberal spokesperson for immigration Andreas Steenberg tweeted.

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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.