A documentary by public service broadcaster DR has revealed that the Danish government sends letters to children under 15 as their families’ refugee applications are being processed.
The documentary, titled På flugt fra Danmark (‘Fleeing from Denmark’) features Ghazal Sbinati, a 12-year-old who was born in Syria and has spent eight years living and studying in Denmark.
“I go to school and have many friends and I hope we stay in Denmark,” Sbinati says in the documentary.
Sbinati received a letter, addressed to her by name, from the Danish Immigration Service telling her “if you do not leave voluntarily, you can be forcibly sent to Syria.”
In fact, Denmark does not have a repatriation agreement with Syria because it does not recognise the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad. This means that Denmark cannot force refugees whose status has been revoked to leave, but instead places them at ‘departure centres’ or udrejsecentre until they leave voluntarily.
The Immigration Service told DR it’s standard practice to communicate with every member of a family during application processing.
Children under the age of 15, who do not have official digital post, receive these communications by mail and addressed with their name.
The Danish Refugee Council objected to the policy.
“Why use the words about forced deportation in the letters? Instead, the Immigration Service should not process these cases until they know whether they can forcibly deport,” the organisation’s head of asylum Eva Singer said.
“When you address a letter directly to a child and write that they can be forcibly deported to Syria if they don’t go themselves, that’s a completely different way for an authority to be talking to a child and threatening them with what they’re at risk of. I think that’s shocking,” she said.
The Danish Immigration Service said it was reconsidering the practice when presented with the issue by DR.
“The Danish Immigration Service can confirm that we are currently in consideration of our practice regarding informing children of our decisions,” it said.
Despite the letter she received, Sbinati and her family received a two-year extension to their residence permit.
The DR documentary will be broadcast on Monday.