Unwelcome Letters

The Danish government's efforts to revoke protections for Syrian refugees

A protest in Copenhagen against the deportation of Syrian refugees. Denmark’s ruling Social Democratic Party made a “zero asylum” electoral promise in 2019. Thibault Savary / AFP / Getty Images
30 September, 2022

Nisrin Mohamad Amam’s life in Denmark has been marked by letters. One of the last ones arrived on 31 January this year. For months, rumours about a new immigration policy had been going round her neighbourhood, near the town of Ebeltoft in northern Denmark, but she had been sceptical—until the letter arrived. That day, she learnt that the Danish Immigration Service was challenging an extension of her residence permit. Amam had fled her home in Damascus with her two sons after the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011. According to the new immigration policy, the DIS’s letter stated, Damascus was now deemed safe for refugees to return to.

“We thought Denmark was a good country, that they respect human rights and allow family reunification,” Amam said. When she arrived in 2015, the DIS granted her family temporary protection and a residence permit but not the right to reunification with her daughter, who had been forced to stay behind in Syria. “We learnt that maybe people are good, but all governments are indifferent.”

In February 2019, the DIS and the Danish Refugee Council, which is partly funded by the Danish government, published a report that declared Greater Damascus to be “safe.” The report was heavily criticised both by humanitarian organisations such as Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor and EU lawmakers, but the following year Denmark became the first—and, so far, only—European Union member to begin revoking the residence permits of Syrian refugees who had fled the region. The DIS letter invited Amam to plead her case against revocation in an interview with immigration authorities.

“They’re handling the last fifty cases now,” Michala Bendixen, the founder and head of the NGO Refugees Welcome Denmark, told me. “The DIS has been through most of the Syrians they screened.” A report in The Guardian suggests that 1,200 people were impacted by this measure. Bendixen told me that this was in line with the “zero asylum” electoral promise made by the ruling Social Democratic Party in 2019.