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way to cooperate with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to return refugees whose claims for asylum have been rejected or withdrawn.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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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.