April 23, 2021

Denmark’s decision on Syrian refugees is impacting women and older people

Denmark has stripped at least 380 Syrian refugees of their residency permits after claiming that some parts of Syria are safe. Denmark claims to be one of the most equal countries in the world, but because the government recognizes that men are at risk of forced conscription into the Syrian army, women have been disproportionately targeted for case reviews by the immigration service. This means women are more likely to be told to return to Assad’s Syria, and elderly people are also at risk.

This comes after the Danish government decided that Damascus and its surrounding area are safe for Syrian refugees to return to based on a flawed report whose conclusion was condemned by eleven out of the twelve experts cited in it. Worryingly, the Danish authorities are expected to revoke the residency of hundreds more Syrian refugees in the coming months.

Those who have their temporary protections revoked and their subsequent appeals rejected are given two options: ‘voluntarily’ return to Syria or move to deportation camps. While Denmark is not technically forcing Syrians to return to Syria, a choice between living in limbo under inhumane, prison-like conditions or returning to a country where they can face detention, torture, and violence is no choice at all. It’s coercion.

Denmark is right to protect men from forced conscription, but women also face significant risks if they return to Syria including arbitrary detention, torture, and sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) in prison – and they must be afforded equal protections to men. The fact is, no part of Syria is safe for anyone. Shockingly, there are cases where women have had their residencies revoked while the rest of their family members have not.

Hiba al-Khalil escaped Syria to Denmark in 2015. She was recently called for a second immigration interview and has not yet heard back about her case. She said:

“People told me that I should marry a Danish citizen or permanent resident so that I can stay here. How is it possible that unmarried women are facing this choice in a country that prides itself on gender equality? I am working hard for my dreams, learning Danish and getting good grades. I thought Denmark would be a place where women’s rights are protected, where women could live freely without oppression. I am very disappointed and worried.”

Hiba al-Khalil, a Syrian refugee in Denmark who was called for a second interview by the immigration service

Hiba al-Khalil, a Syrian refugee in Denmark who was called for a second interview by the immigration service

Eilaf Alakkad is 19 and originally from Damascus. She came to Denmark in 2015, but has recently received a letter telling her to return to Syria.

“Syria is not safe and even though there isn’t bombing in Damascus, there is a lot of hostage-taking,” she said. “Some girls are having to quit their education as their parents are too worried that they’ll be arrested or taken hostage by armed criminal groups or the regime. I won’t go back there – I’d rather go to another country to try to seek asylum there.”

“Denmark’s actions are shameful,” said Dr Hala Al Ghawi who is a member of Families for Freedom and the Syrian Association for Citizens’ Dignity. “Any person who leaves their country is seeking security and a better future for them and their children. Denmark doesn’t only have an obligation to protect the human rights of people under bombing and shelling. It must protect people from human rights violations of any kind and refugees face so many different dangers if they return. As long as Denmark cannot protect refugees from arrest, forced disappearance and torture it has no right to send them to Syria, where violations are being committed daily and hundreds of thousands of people are still missing.”

There isn’t publicly available data on who has recently lost their residency, but people interviewed by The Syria Campaign and stories reported in the media show that Denmark’s decision has disproportionately affected women. 

“Syrian men are generally exempt from the new policy because the authorities recognise they are at risk of being drafted into the Syrian military or punished for evading conscription. The majority of affected people appear to be women and older people, many of whom face being separated from their children.” The Guardian

By willfully ignoring the significant risks that women face if they return, Denmark is putting women, and in many cases their children too, in grave danger. Denmark is stereotyping Syrian women by downplaying the risks that they face in Syria for their political views. The Danish government must stop perpetuating the oppression and discrimination that it is so quick to condemn in other countries and cultures.

Sign the urgent petition demanding that Danish Prime minister Mette Frederiksen and immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye stop putting the lives of Syrian refugees at risk, many of them women, by stripping them of their residency.


With thanks to Refugees Welcome for providing information.