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SYRIA

EU politicians criticise Denmark over return policy for Syrian refugees

Denmark faced the ire of European Union parliamentarians on Wednesday for its policy of sending some Syrian refugees back to the Damascus area and revoking their asylum status.

 Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye attends a meeting at the EU Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), in Brussels, Belgium, January 13th, 2022.
Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye attends a meeting at the EU Parliament Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE), in Brussels, Belgium, January 13th, 2022. Photo: Johanna Geron/Reuters/Ritzau Scanpix

Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye was on Thursday at the European Parliament in Brussels to attend an EU civil rights committee over Denmark’s policy of sending some Syrian refugees back to the Damascus region.

The EU’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) summoned Tesfaye to the hearing.

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, claiming “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

Despite a wave of Danish and international criticism, including from experts used by the government, Tesfaye’s ministry refused to budge.

READ ALSO: ‘I can’t go back’: Syrian refugees in Denmark face limbo after status revoked

“How do you expect them (the refugees) to integrate in Denmark with the threat of being sent back,” Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, of the centrist Renew group, asked Tesfaye according to Danish news wire Ritzau’s report.

Several members of the LIBE committee stated that they believed Denmark was displaying a lack of solidarity with other EU countries with the policy, because refugees in Denmark were more likely to apply for asylum elsewhere in the EU than to return to Syria.

“All your politics does is send a signal to the Syrians that they are not welcome in Denmark,” Maltese social democratic MEP Cyrus Engerer said according to Ritzau.

Another MEP, Tineke Strik of the Greens alliance, called the policies pursued by the Danish Social Democratic government a moral low point.

Tesfaye said at the hearing that the EU must change its asylum system to prevent people smuggling.

“We must ensure that it is Europe that has control of who comes into the EU, not the people smugglers,” he said.

The Danish minister also repeated Denmark’s claim that Syrians can safely return to some parts of the country including Damascus.

He also spoke about Denmark’s plan to open an asylum processing centre in a third country. Rwanda has been reported to be the intended location of such an offshore Danish asylum facility.

Tesfaye said he hoped the Danish project would inspire other countries to take a similar step, but some MEPs questioned how Denmark would be able to ensure asylum seekers’ rights are protected in locations outside of the EU.

He received support from other MEPs during the hearing, notably Peter Kofod of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party and conservative Italian MEP Nicola Procaccini.

READ ALSO: Amnesty slams Rwanda migrant deal as ‘new low’ for Denmark

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DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS

Denmark tightens visa rules for Russian citizens 

Denmark is to restrict tourist visas for Russian citizens, following a similar decision by the European Union.

Denmark tightens visa rules for Russian citizens 

Russians hoping to visit Denmark will face longer processing times, be asked to present more documentation, and pay higher fees under new visa rules.

Following a similar decision by the EU on Friday, limiting Russians’ travel access to Europe, the Danish government confirmed it would take the same step in a statement released by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

“It is provocative that Russians travel to European countries — among other things for holidays — while their country has invaded a free and democratic European country,” Minister for Immigration and Integration Kaare Dybvad Bek said. 

Denmark is to suspend a visa scheme with Russia and tighten rules granting visa to Russia. As such, Russians applying for visas to Denmark will join a category with countries including Syria, Somalia, and Eritrea.

Denmark has a legal reservation exempting it from EU-wide visa agreements and had its own bilateral agreement with Russia, but this will not continue following the government decision.

“I am therefore pleased that the EU has decided to suspend a visa scheme with Russia. Denmark supports that, even though we are not part of the scheme due to our legal opt-out,” Bek said.

READ ALSO: Why does Denmark have four EU ‘opt-outs’ and what do they mean?

The EU decision, scrapping a scheme that granted Russians visas on easier criteria than some other countries, comes into effect on Monday September 12th.

The scheme was first adopted in 2007 and gave Russian tourists easier access to EU travel.

“With the new measures we are making it more expensive and difficult for Russian tourists and other travellers to apply for visas to Denmark and the rest of the EU. I am very satisfied with this,” foreign minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement.

Kofod said the decision sends an important signal to Russian President Vladimir Putin that Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine is unacceptable and has consequences on many levels.

The fee for an EU visa application for Russians will increase from around 260 kroner to just under 600 kroner, while processing times will be longer and additional documentation required.

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