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Danish government’s expert sources call country’s Syria report ‘incomplete and misleading’

Eight out of twelve expert sources used by the Danish government in its assessments of the security situation in Syria have gone public to distance themselves from the conclusions of the final report.

Danish government’s expert sources call country’s Syria report ‘incomplete and misleading’
A boy walks past shops in Douma, in the eastern suburbs of Damascus, Syria March 10, 2021. Picture taken March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

In a joint statement reported by newspaper BT, the eight individuals and organisations – researchers, analysts and experts on the area — said the content of the report is “incomplete and misleading”. 

Around 500 Syrian refugees in Denmark are to have their cases re-evaluated with a view to their return to Damascus or its outlying province, Rif Dimashq. That is based on a conclusion by Danish authorities that low conflict level locally means it is safe enough for people who fled from that area to return.

At least 94 refugees have already had their asylum status revoked, according to earlier reports.

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Denmark’s judgement that Damascus and the surrounding area are safe for return is not based on information from the UN’s refugee agency UNHCR or the EU, but on reports produced under the auspices of the Danish Immigration Service.

As The Local previously detailed, the assessment in the most recent Danish report from October 2020 is “based on information from written sources as well as information obtained through Skype meetings and email correspondences” and not on a physical visit to the area, according to the text of the report itself.

A number of contributors to the report have now publicly stated their disagreement with its conclusions.

“We, the undersigned analysts, researchers and other experts on the Syrian context, strongly condemn the Danish government’s decision to remove ‘temporary protection’ for Syrian refugees from Damascus,” the joint statement reads.

“This decision used our testimonies… for a country of origin report on Damascus, but we do not recognise our views in subsequent government conclusions or policies,” it continues.

The signatories to the statement are Ammar Hamou, editor of media Syria Direct; Bente Scheller of the Heinrich Boell Foundation; COAR Global; Jusoor for Studies Centre; Jennifer Cafarella (on behalf Christopher Kozak formerly of ISW); Omran Center for Strategic Studies; Sara Kayyali of Human Rights Watch; and Suhail al-Ghazi, Syrian researcher and non-resident fellow at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy.

The statement can be read in full (in English) via BT’s report.

Kayyali told broadcaster TV2 that she made it clear to the Danish immigration authorities that “Syria is not safe for returns”.

In comments to BT, Scheller called the quality of the Danish report “very poor”.

Denmark is coming increasingly under the spotlight over the decision revoke the status of refugees from Damascus. No other country in Europe has taken such a stance.

International media including CNN, the New York Times and the Guardian have all recently reported on the situation.

Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye told both TV2 and BT in a written comment that he retained “confidence in authorities’ assessment of the security situation” in Syria.

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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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