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.


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.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


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.