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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

Seven members of Danish embassy expelled by Russia

Moscow said Thursday that seven members of Denmark's embassy in Russia have been declared persona non grata and had two weeks to leave Russia.

Seven members of Danish embassy expelled by Russia

Russia’s foreign ministry said it summoned Danish Ambassador Carsten Søndergaard to inform him of the retaliatory measures following the expulsion of 15 Russian diplomats from Denmark and the country’s military aid to Kyiv.

“The kingdom’s openly anti-Russian policies cause serious damage to bilateral ties,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement.

Russia reserves the right “to take additional steps in response to Copenhagen’s unfriendly actions,” the statement said, adding that a diplomat of the Danish mission was also refused a visa as part of the retaliatory measures.

The Danish foreign ministry said that Russia was expelling seven members of its diplomatic mission including four diplomats.

In a statement to AFP, Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod called the move “a totally unjustified and deeply problematic decision”.

“Russia no longer wants real dialogue and diplomacy,” he said, noting that Denmark had in fact expelled Russian intelligence agents and not diplomats.

Since President Vladimir Putin sent troops to Ukraine on February 24th, the West has expelled dozens of Russian diplomats and Russia retaliated in tit-for-tat moves.

READ ALSO: Denmark accuses Russian spy plane of violating airspace

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