Rasha Kairout could be stripped of her residence permit and asylum status after Denmark deemed Damascus and surrounding areas safe for the return of refugees, Anadolu Agency reports.
Kairout took refuge in Denmark when the Syrian civil war erupted. She took dangerous routes, first coming to Turkey and then taking rubber boats to cross into Europe.
“The journey was dangerous, but the fear of the Syrian regime was a lot bigger,” Kairout told Anadolu Agency.
“I am really desperate. After all I went through to reach this safe place, where I took a very dangerous boat and slept in the forests just to have a safe future for my children. But this is now on the verge of being taken away from me,” said the 38-year-old single mom of two teens.
Denmark become the first European Union country to deem Damascus and its surroundings safe for Syrian refugees.
It started to not renew residence permits of Syrians who will eventually be returned to the war-torn country despite the UN’s contention that most areas are not stable for residents to return.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at a news conference on April 8 that “refugees should never be forced to go back.” And any return should be the choice of refugees “and it should be done in dignity and, of course, in safety.”
“UNHCR does not consider the recent improvements in security in parts of Syria to be sufficiently fundamental, stable or durable to justify ending international protection for any group of refugees,” he added, referring to the body’s refugee agency.
‘Denmark became our home’
Kairout came to Denmark in 2015 and for six years has lived in safety and security, making the Scandinavian nation home for herself and her two children — daughter Louseen, 15, and son Qusai, 13.
“Our life in Denmark faced little problems at the start due to language difficulties but we learned it. We are very well integrated and have friends,” she said.
After working at a hotel for one-and-a-half years, she lost her first job during the coronavirus pandemic but found another at an elderly care home. And she is also studying.
“There is a big difference between living here and living in Syria. We are living here in Denmark in freedom where we express freedom of opinion and enjoy democracy. And the most important thing is living in security and safety. This is contrary to the situation in Syria,” she said.
But on Feb. 10, she received an e-mail from Danish immigration authorities that said her and her children’s residency permits has been suspended because “Damascus is safe.”
“I am really shocked by their response. They are saying Damascus is safe and halted my residence based on that,” said Kairout. “From the first day of my arrival in Denmark, I told them I fled from the Assad brutal regime … this means, I will be arrested from the airport in Syria from that criminal regime, and me and my children will be dead.”
She has applied for the decision to be reversed and is waiting for a court to assess her appeal.
“We are living in a state of fear as we don’t know what will happen. My children are shocked as well because they grew up in Denmark and they feel Denmark is their home. I am fighting for our rights,” said Kairout.
“I am not the only case in Denmark under this situation. Many Syrian families, women, children and older people are facing the same problem,” she said, adding that she wants her voice to be heard and her story to be known.
“There is a criminal who killed his own people in Syria,” she said. “Syria — there is a full corrupt regime and made most of the Syrian people refugees around the world. We didn’t come here to enjoy a luxurious life, but we fled because of the ongoing war for around 10 years.”
‘Denmark’s decision will leave people in limbo’
The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) said due to the lack of diplomatic relations between Denmark and the Assad regime, Syrians in Denmark cannot be returned to Syria and they will be put in departure centers indefinitely.
DRC told Anadolu Agency that according to Danish immigration services, “as much as 170 Syrians got their residency permits revoked (or not extended) in 2020 – and in January and February 2021, the figure was 84.”
“We believe, it is not only a wrong but also strange position for the Danish authorities to take as neither UNHCR nor any other European country to our knowledge deem Damascus as being safe for refugees’ return,” Secretary-General of the DRC Charlotte Slente told Anadolu Agency.
“The absence of fighting in some areas of Syria does not mean that people can safely go back. We have numerous reports about arbitrary detentions and severe human rights abuse of the civilian population,” said Slente, who added that the DRC “disagrees with the decision to deem the Damascus area or any area in Syria safe for refugees to be returned.”
“The Syrians who are seeing their residence permit revoked are left in limbo at departure centers as a means to incentivize them to ‘voluntarily’ go back to Syria despite the insecure conditions. This goes against basic protection principles and can have severe implications for people’s mental and physical well-being, but it is also pointless to disrupt people’s lives and once again uproot them to face a situation of despair and insecurity,” she said.
Refugees, whose residence permits are revoked are at the point of integration — they might be working or studying in the country, said Slente. “They will not be able to continue the life they have established in Denmark and will be placed on a waiting position without an end date” at the departure centers.
“It is not a dignified way to treat people,” she said.