In its latest lurch to the far right, Denmark plans to send some refugees back to Syria

It felt like paradise when Dania and Hussam first moved to Denmark. They did not speak a word of Danish yet the Scandinavian country was an outpost of calm for the siblings, who fled the destruction and death that followed the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011. “I can hardly remember anything but war in Syria,” Dania, 22, told CNN of her time growing up on the outskirts of the country’s capital, Damascus. She said what drew her family of five to Denmark was its reputation for welcoming refugees — being the first country in the world to sign the United Nations Refugee Convention in 1951.

On arriving in 2015, it only took them a year to learn the language, and now Dania is months away from finishing high school in the Danish port of Kolding. “We were very happy at the beginning and felt safe being here,” Dania, who hopes to work in bio-medicine, said. “We [wanted] a good future, therefore we did everything [we could] to learn Danish.” Hussam, 20, described Denmark as a place of peace, a country where his family felt at home, and “a society that gives you the freedom to live the way you want.” He hoped to study engineering or medicine once he completed high school next year.

Those dreams were dashed when Denmark became the first democratic European nation to tell Syrian refugees originating from Damascus and its surrounding countryside to return to the war-torn nation. In 2019, the Danish government began reviewing the residency permits of refugees who came from Damascus — a move based on its assessment that the conditions there had improved and it was therefore safe for refugees to return. In February, it was announced they were also reviewing the status of several hundred Syrian refugees from Damascus’ surrounding region. But critics say the policy of stripping Syrians of residency permits is the latest salvo aimed at Denmark’s non-White refugee and immigrant community. While fighting has subsided considerably in the region around Damascus, activists say the Danish government is actively putting Syrians in harm’s way.

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