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Sending refugees back to Syria isn't just inhumane, it's illegal

Denmark's latest crackdown on vulnerable Syrian refugees has not come as a surprise.
In 2019, the Danish government declared some parts of Syria "safe" - a designation with no basis in reality, and one that has been strongly condemned by international human rights groups and the UNHCR.

Following that, in March of this year, the Scandinavian country revoked the residency permits of dozens of Syrian refugees on the basis they could safely return to Assad's Damascus Governorate.

In the same month, Denmark's Interior Ministry revealed a proposed reform that would reduce the number of people of "non-western" origin in social housing to 30 percent within 10 years.

This discriminatory amendment violates Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State." It also violates the right to freedoms of movement and residence guaranteed in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

And just this week, after the Danish government stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their residency permits, the far right "Identitarian movement" put up posters on the streets of Copenhagen, saying: "Good news - You can now return to sunny Syria - Your country needs you".

This sentence is not only absurd, but also mocks Syrians who fled for their lives. It sums up the tragic situation in Syria, where thousands of Syrians can not see the sun because they are held in Assad's underground detention facilities. This, in itself, is one of the main reasons Syrian refugees are afraid to go back.

The Identitarian movement's recycled Nazi ideology has been spreading like a virus across Europe. The Danish government seems to be the executive arm of this extremist ideology with its practices and language using terms like "non westerns'' and "ghettos".

But Denmark's xenophobic and illegal crackdown is the culmination of a long-term campaign against Syrian refugees. In part, these inhumane and illegal practices are the result of inaction by the EU, UN and other parties towards the gradual extreme steps taken by the Danish government against refugees.

In 2015, the campaign kicked off by telling those escaping for their lives that they are not welcome in Denmark.

In 2016, Denmark amended a proposal to confiscate refugees' personal belongings including jewellery, mobile phones, watches and computers.

In 2017, then-Integration minister, Inger Stojberg, celebrated the passing of the 50th regulation against immigration, by posting a cake on her Facebook with number 50 in sugar and chocolate.

And in 2018, Denmark suggested dumping unwanted refugees on an island that was used to isolate contagious animals.

Denmark's record of hard-line amendments against refugees contradicts its commitment to hold those who supported the brutal regime accountable.

Denmark's corporate responsibility in Syria's war crimes

In 2018, the US Attorney's Office published documents revealing that a Danish company had provided jet fuel to Syria through the Russians in violation of EU and US sanctions, and at a time when the Assad regime and Russian forces were using banned weapons, and bombing civilians, hospitals and civilian areas.

As the main fuel source for the air strikes, the Danish company may be indirectly held responsible for war crimes committed by Syria and Russian air force. But the Danish authorities have taken years to start the process of holding this company accountable for violating EU sanctions. The court hearing will start in October 2021.

The Danish government should also look into possible aiding and abetting war crimes, and address the profits earned by this company, as well as the "war crimes taxes" paid to Denmark, instead of cracking down on the vulnerable refugees who were forced to flee.

Syrians have expressed their panic over being sent back to Syria for years. They do not feel safe and live with the worry that they will one day be sent back to Assad's areas. Such insecurity has a severe impact on their daily lives. It impacts their language learning, plans for work and social participation.

This inhumane, illegal terror imposed by the Danish government may also affect the course of justice for Syrians, by restricting the ability of victims of international crimes in Syria to take part in legal advocacy and process.

Assad's Syria will never be safe

None of the EU politicians, the UN or human rights groups has taken serious steps to address the gradual Danish crackdown on Syrian refugees. The government's far-right practices should be taken to Danish and European courts and included in the UN periodic review for violating refugee agreements and terrorising Syrians living with instability, constant fear and anxiety.

Such practices scare witnesses and victims away from participating in demanding justice, or even speaking against the regime, for fear that they will be deported to Syria one day, and that the regime will retaliate.

The Danish government must understand that Syria will never be safe as long as this regime is in power. It goes without saying that Assad - who is responsible for war crimes - will never hold his own regime accountable. And so, sending Syrian refugees to Syria knowing that it is not safe, only makes Denmark complicit in crimes against humanity.


Mansour Omari is a Syrian journalist and Syria correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, and holds an LLM in Transitional Justice and Conflict.

He is the author of Syria Through Western Eyes: In-depth look on the Western reporting on Syria in 2013-2014. He has written for publications including The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Apostrophe and several Syrian media outlets.

The New Arab
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