Reports | 11 01 2022Mais katt
"I am fifty years old now, and I am still looking for a shelter to live in, and to a residence in a safe country that respects me and my family." Aisha says desperately while her eyes are swelled with tears. She stares into her cup of coffee and says: "I cannot return to Syria as long as Bashar al-Assad remains in power.
My nephews were killed during the war and other men from my family were arrested. Many members of my family fled the country, and people are still fleeing today".
Syrians are struggling in Denmark to retain their residence, while others are trying to travel to other European countries to seek a new refuge.
Copenhagen recently declared that Damascus is a safe place and that Syrians who came from the Syrian capital and its countryside do not deserve asylum anymore. As such, they should return to their country.
In this investigation, we interviewed dozens of Syrians who fled from Syria and reside in Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany.
We documented their legal conditions, their life difficulties and their arduous asylum journeys they are carrying out today between European countries.
An image of newly arrived Syrians in Denmark during the 2015 refugee crisis - Investigation made by Mais Katt
Rozana Media Institution conducted this investigation as part of a another broad one carried out by the institution of Lighthouse Reports for Investigative Journalism, in cooperation with Trouw newspaper in the Netherlands, Knack magazine for Investigative Journalism, "Le Vif" newspaper in Belgium, Der Spiegel in Germany, Sydsvenskan newspaper in Sweden, Information newspaper, and the Media Bridge project in Denmark.
Aisha (pseudonym) lives in a rented room with her eldest son in northern Belgium. They use the small space as a living room, bedroom and kitchen at the same time. While her husband lives with her youngest son in Denmark.
Aisha remembers her painful and sad memories, she says: "I was totally displeased when I heard that my husband had arrived in Denmark and applied for asylum there in 2014." She heard bad news about the refugee situation in Denmark.
Her husband was forced to stay there even though he wanted to go to Sweden first. Aisha and her two sons arrived in Denmark for family reunification after a year and a half, and they all began trying to seek a new life.
For years, the Danish government has sought to limit the number of asylum seekers. To this effect, Copenhagen increasingly implements strict policies. In 2016, the residence period granted to refugees was shortened from five to two years, after which the application for asylum must be renewed. Also, the conditions of the family reunification were restricted. Family reunification has become possible only three years after the arrival of a family member in Denmark.
Ayyub, Aisha's husband, received a notification from the Danish authorities that his temporary protection would not be renewed and that he should leave the country with his wife and children. The attorney appealed the decision, but the family, like many, decided to proceed with another contingency plan.
Aisha and her two sons moved to Belgium with hope to get protection there. After a short time, the youngest son decided to return to Denmark, the young man was soon granted political asylum in Denmark, because he reached the age of military service in Syria.
Aisha remembers her son's words when he cried and said: "I cannot start from the beginning in Belgium, after I finished my secondary education and became qualified to finish my university study in Denmark."
The eldest son was able to obtain political asylum in Denmark like his younger brother, but he preferred to stay with his mother.
He stares at his mobile phone for a long time and then looks up to tell us: "I no longer feel safe in Denmark, I don't trust their promises. They told us to take 140,000 krone and go back to Syria. As if we had come for the sake of money!".
Approximately 35,000 Syrians live in Denmark, including 4,700 people who have been granted temporary protection, of whom approximately 1,250 are from Damascus and its suburbs. According to the research carried out by the partners of this investigation, the Danish authorities have so far terminated 378 residence permits, including 101 decisions under appeal, and more than 400 files are still under consideration.
Fifty-four people holding Syrian nationality arrived in Belgium coming from Denmark between January 2019 and November 2021. Only two of them were deported to Denmark as per the Dublin Treaty, while at least 265 people travelled to Germany, 62 to Sweden, and 40 to the Netherlands, according to the figures obtained by partners of this investigation from the immigration offices in the four European countries.
It is likely that the number of those who left Denmark is higher than these figures because data is not always complete. Also, it is possible that some Syrians travelled to other countries, or they avoided statistics, or they did not reveal their destination from Denmark.
So far Denmark has terminated 279 residencies for Syrians, in addition to another 400 cases under review.
Aisha says: "I know families who arrived in Belgium from Denmark. I was encouraged to do the same, I also heard that Belgium is more open to refugees."
Aisha and her son applied for asylum in Belgium, then she started to work as a cleaner, and her son started to work temporarily in a cardboard factory.
Aisha says that things were acceptable. Her asylum application was rejected as per the Dublin Regulation. So, Denmark requested that her file be sent back from Belgium.
The Dublin decision, or as it is called "the Dublin fingerprint", expires six months after the rejection of the asylum application in Belgium, which may allow Aisha to submit a new asylum application. Until then, Aisha could not stay in the camp, she has to leave with her son and find lodging in some way.
Aisha says: "We are just living and waiting for the end of the six-month period so that we can apply for asylum in Belgium again." Gail Jordans, the attorney of Aisha and her eldest son, expects that Aisha will be able to start the asylum procedures again this January, and that she will not be forced to appeal against the last decision of sending her back to Denmark.
Meanwhile, the appeal of Ayyub, Aisha's husband, was rejected in Denmark. He is living undercover in his house. He does not want to go to the deportation camp. Ayyub's attorney, Nilz Eric Hans, is trying to reopen his case with the Appeals Commission of the Refugee Affairs.
In the Netherlands
"The Syrian army shot my uncle last week," Rana said in a shaky voice in the Dutch courtroom, "Syria is not safe for me and my family." Tears are flowing on her cheeks.
The 30-year-old fled to Denmark in 2015 and established a new life. She got married and gave birth to a son. Her parents and two of her brothers had also travelled to Denmark earlier, all of them learned Danish and looked to their future.
In December 2020, Rana was informed that her residency permit was cancelled. Rana left her husband in Denmark and ran away with her five-year-old son to the Netherlands. Denmark allowed her two brothers to remain in the country under political asylum based on the possibility that they may be forced to perform compulsory military service in Syria. But her parents’ residency was withdrawn. The family was torn apart like dozens of other Syrian families in Denmark.
To justify its decision that "Damascus became a safe place", the Danish government relied on two reports, which were objected to by experts who participated in preparing the same reports. The European Parliament stated in its decision regarding the Syrian conflict after ten years since the start of the Syrian revolution that Syria is not a safe country to return to. The Parliament called on all European countries not to amend its policies regarding the rules of protection and asylum for Syrian citizens.
The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), the office that advises European countries on asylum policies, said in a statement issued at the end of November 2021 that the mere immigration of any Syrian as a refugee and returning to Syria may expose him to serious repercussions as a result of his return.
Reports rendered from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch stated that dozens of refugees who returned to Syrian government territories, including Damascus and the surrounding area, were immediately arrested and tortured. Rozana documented in the investigation of "the trap of settlements hunts refugees returning to Syria" testimonies of people who were subjected to serious violations upon their return to Syria.
The Dutch government report on the situation of Syrian refugees issued in 2021 specified "several obstacles and threats that impede the return of displaced persons and refugees".
Rana's asylum application in the Netherlands was rejected as per the Dublin Regulation, which states that Denmark, not the Netherlands has the jurisdiction to address her file. Rana's attorney Mark Wijngaarden submitted an objection to the Dutch Council of State, the highest court for foreigners.
While Rana's parents, who arrived in the Netherlands in June, received a letter from the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service that their application would not fall under Dublin Regulation, and that it will be processed as a new asylum application, which is a positive matter since the Netherlands approved more than 90 percent of the Syrian asylum applications in 2020.
Furthermore, others are awaiting the decision of the European Court of Justice regarding the possibility of applying the principle of non-refoulement, according to the Geneva Convention on Human Rights.
Nabil Al-Khatib is lying in his bed in Denmark, his body parts are shackled with the intensive care equipment to measure his heartbeat, the serum is hanging from his arm, he looks around and says: "It is not the suitable time."
Nabil's trial was scheduled for the next day to review the decision to withdraw his residency in Denmark. Certainly, like many Syrians, he fears returning to Syria, where his home was bombed and his nephew was killed.
Nabil was always in good health. He got a job in Denmark and was doing well until he was informed that his right of residence was revoked. He became depressed and suffered from concentration distress, and he was forced to quit his job at a logistics company. Now, at the night before his last court hearing, the man has completely collapsed.
Nabil's wife and his four children live near Oldenburg, Germany, where they are waiting for asylum there.
Everyone left Denmark in 2019 for fear of deportation, while Nabil remained in Denmark in an attempt by the family to draw up a plan A and a plan B that would help them to avoid the worst, which is returning to Syria in case their residencies were withdrawn. Nabil was previously involved in the demonstrations, and their family is known to be opposed to the Syrian regime.
Like Aisha's situation in Belgium, Nabil's wife and her children passed the six-month period that cancels the "Dublin fingerprint" in Germany. They became able to submit a new asylum application in Germany. Meanwhile, Nabil’s hearing was postponed in Denmark due to his health condition.
Nabil Al-Khatib is a Syrian refugee in Denmark whose residency was recently revoked. A decision has been issued to send him back to Damascus - Mais Katt
There are no clear decisions in Germany regarding addressing of asylum applications for Syrians coming from Denmark. Where 45 out of 265 people were returned from Germany to Denmark as per the Dublin Regulation. "We treat each case separately." The press spokesman of the Supreme Administrative Court in Berlin said to Der Spiegel newspaper.
Avin is the only person among her brothers who received a refusal to renew her residency in Denmark. She has two young brothers who obtained residency under political asylum because they are of the age of compulsory military service in Syria, while her two sisters obtained residency based on the residency of their husbands.
Avin arrived in Denmark in 2015. She obtained only a two-year residency, and the authorities agreed to renew her residency for an additional year. Avin had to wait before receiving a refusal decision to renew her residency. The young woman tried hard to learn the language and go to school. When she was 19 years old, she faced racial discrimination because of her veil. She says: "I was subjected to discrimination because of my clothes, I was hearing harsh and disturbing words in the street as well."
The girl married the young man she loves, but they were unable to legally register their marriage with the Danish authorities because Avin does not have residency. She moved to Sweden, where her husband lives in Malmö city. She applied for asylum in Sweden, but it was rejected.
He judge told her that she had to leave Swedish territory to Denmark according to Dublin Regulation, since Denmark is responsible for addressing Avin's case as a refugee. She says: "The judge in Denmark said you are young and they will do nothing for you in Syria".
A Syrian refugee fled from Denmark to Sweden due to her residency revocation
Sweden informed 25 Syrian refugees that it had rejected their asylum application and that they have to return to Denmark according to Dublin Regulation. "The risk of return to war-torn Syria is not a sufficient reason for granting refugees who have lost their residence in Denmark protection in Sweden," Morten Löfberg, Secretary-General of the Office of Immigration and Asylum in Sweden, said to the Sydsvenskan newspaper. Therefore, Sweden will continue to return Syrian refugees to Denmark until further notice, which may change its policy.
Avin suffers from constant panic attacks "I only sleep after a very difficult time." The young woman is afraid of being sent back to Denmark. She lives with her husband but cannot work, or to learn Swedish, or to go to school to fulfil her dream of becoming a police officer.
Is Denmark a safe country for Syrians?
A map showing the escape routes taken by Syrian refugees from Denmark to Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Sweden
The Administrative Court in Berlin recently ruled in a case that Denmark is not a safe country for Syrian refugees due to its immigration policies.
Returning Syrians from European countries to Denmark according to Dublin Regulation may expose them to the risk of indirect refoulement, in violation of Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights and Article 4 of the fundamental principles of human rights.
Denmark does not have diplomatic relations with Damascus yet, so it cannot deport Syrian refugees there, but it may send them to places called "deportation centers" in preparation for their "voluntary" return to Syria, which are notorious centers where refugees receive three meals and a very little financial allowance. They are also not allowed to leave the center for more than 24 hours.
Refugees cannot work, children also cannot go to school. Within the Facebook groups of the Syrians in Denmark, there are many circulated images showing the deplorable conditions of the centers, and reveal the severe neglect of the most basic needs.
Members of the European Parliament are taking the initiative to hold the Danish government accountable for stripping Syrians of their residency permits, and threatening them of returning to Syria. After months of delay, a hearing is likely to be held on January 13 with senior Danish officials of the Civil Liberty Committee in the European Parliament.
Hoping that the Syrians in Denmark will get a fair European shelter…