Danish authorities criticised for defying own report on Syrian asylum claims

Immigration authorities in Denmark sometimes rule in contradiction of their own report on security in Syria when assessing the asylum claims of refugees, critics say.

Danish authorities criticised for defying own report on Syrian asylum claims
People demonstrate against deportation of Syrians by Denmark in 2021. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

Syrian refugees whose residency in Denmark is revoked because it is deemed safe for them to return to the Damascus area are still at risk of persecution and attacks if they travel home, according to critics of Danish Immigration Service rulings on asylum cases.

Decisions made by the Danish Immigration Service (Udlændingestyrelsen) appear in some cases to be at odds with the immigration authorities’ own report on the security situation in the Middle Eastern country, according to a report by public service broadcaster DR.

The Danish Immigration Service in May released a report detailing the risks that former refugees returning to Syria face — “authorities who continue to arrest, detain, interrogate, torture, extort and kill Syrian refugees,” DR writes.

An EU report published in September and reviewed by the Immigration Service likewise concludes that repatriated Syrians are subjected to interrogation, arrests, rape and torture.

Denmark’s government maintains that the situation in Syria and especially around Damascus has improved enough for refugees to be sent home in some cases.

The Danish Refugee Council, a nonprofit advocacy and humanitarian group, argues that immigration authorities are not sufficiently taking the reports into account in deciding whether to renew Syrian refugees’ residence permits. 

The Immigration Service told DR that its report is used as background information when cases are processed.

The Refugee Appeals Board (Flygtningenævnet) — the part of the Danish Immigration Service that serves as its appeal body — told DR it routinely refers to the report in its decisions.

The Refugee Appeals Board has reversed Immigration Service’s decision to remove Syrian refugees in 49 out of 70 cases that have surfaced between May and September, DR writes. 

READ ALSO: Denmark reverses residence decisions for hundreds of Syrian refugees

“This means that 21 cases at the Refugee Appeals Board will not be overturned despite the report of the Danish Immigration Service and the report from the EU,” Eva Singer, head of asylum at the Danish Refugee Council, told DR.

“This corresponds to 30 percent of the cases, and these are refugees who may also be at risk if they are sent back to Syria. We cannot see how they differ from the others. As such, the practice at the Refugee Appeals Board is not clear,” she said.

The Refugee Appeals Board told DR that approval of some appeals and rejection of others “is not an expression of unclear practice”.

“In all cases, the Refugee Appeals Board conducts a concrete and individual assessment,” to assess whether the applicant “risks persecution or abuse,” it said.

“General conditions” in Damascus and the surrounding region are not considered in isolation to be cause for granting or extending asylum, it said.

Denmark and Hungary are the only EU countries which currently deem it safe to return Syrian refugees.

Since Denmark doesn’t have a repatriation agreement with Syria, refugees whose status is revoked are frequently moved indefinitely to detention facilities termed ‘deportation centres’, where conditions have been strongly criticised.

READ MORE: Danish agency sent letters about deportation to refugee children 

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Half of all immigrants to Denmark in 2021 moved for work reasons

A new report from Statistics Denmark shows that 48 percent of residence permits granted to foreign nationals in Denmark in 2021 were for employment reasons. Asylum seekers accounted for 1 percent of new residents.

Half of all immigrants to Denmark in 2021 moved for work reasons

Since the beginning of the century, the reasons for which foreign nationals are granted residency in Denmark have changed considerably, according to a new report by national agency Statistics Denmark.

Over 48 percent of foreign nationals who moved to Denmark with a residence permit in 2021 did so for the purpose of working in the country.

That is the highest level in the last 20 years.

“During the last 20 years there has been a steep increase of immigration of persons who do not have Danish or Nordic citizenship, only briefly interrupted in 2020 because of Covid-19,” Statistics Denmark senior consultant Jørn Korsbø Petersen said in a press statement.

“But the reason for the immigrants’ residence has changed a lot during this period and last year almost half came to Denmark due to work,” Petersen said.

Data from back in 1997 show that during that year, half of the 21,264 people who were issued residency in Denmark arrived for asylum or family reunification reasons, with 32 percent moving for work or study.

In 2021, those proportions had shifted with 70 percent of the total 52,736 arrivals for reasons of either work or study.

Just 1 percent of residence permits were given for asylum with 5 percent granted family reunification.

The primary reason for that change is the increase in people moving to Denmark from other EU countries, according to Statistics Denmark.

Since 1997, a number of new countries including Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria and Romania have joined the EU, with immigration from these countries to Denmark for work reasons subsequently increasing.

Nationals of EU countries can freely move to Denmark to work under the right to free movement guaranteed by EU membership. Citizens of other countries do not have the same rights and must fulfil stringent criteria to be granted residency in the Nordic country.

READ ALSO: How can you get a work permit in Denmark if you are not an EU national?

That is reflected by the data, Statistics Denmark notes. Of the 25,500 persons who immigrated to Denmark for work reasons in 2021, 19,500 were EU or EEA citizens.

The numbers show that the demand for labour in Denmark is “almost insatiable” in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Tore Stramer, the senior economist with the Danish Chamber of Commerce (Dansk Erhverv).

“Foreign labour has been a very important lifeline for Danish businesses at this conjuncture,” he said.

“If businesses had not been able to recruit foreign labour, the economic recovery after the corona crisis would have been significantly harder,” he said in a written comment.