Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye has asked the Immigration Service to review the residence permit for hundreds of people from Syria's Damascus province based on the idea that the war in the country is effectively over and they don't need protection.
In recent weeks, the Refugee Board has intervened in five cases, saying that Syrians from the Damascus area don't need protection.
“Last year, there were almost 100,000 refugees returning to Syria from the surrounding areas. I think it is fair that the people who live here in Europe also return home if they don't need protection,” Mattias Tesfaye said in a statement. “So I think it is natural for us to find the pile of Damascus cases and evaluate them.”
So far it remains uncertain how many Syrian cases will be reassessed by the Danish Immigration Service. The government's press release estimates "with considerable uncertainty" that there may be about 900 cases. The majority of them are expected to be settled this year, the press release said.
In December last year, the Refugee Board upheld a decision by the Immigration Service on conditions in Damascus province. The Refugee Board ruled that conditions in the province were no longer so severe that there was a basis for granting or extending temporary residence permits.
According to the Danish law, a residence permit is granted for the purpose of temporary residence if the person applying for asylum is facing the death penalty or risks being subjected to torture, or inhumane or degrading punishment.
Last year, more Syrians emigrated from Denmark than immigrated into the country. 886 Syrians left Denmark while 563 moved in. In part, this is due to a new Danish repatriation law that encourages immigrants to return to their home countries.
However, the plan has sparked polarising reactions. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees stressed that there was no prospect for a peaceful solution to the long-standing conflict in Syria.
“Unless the situation in Syria is significantly improved in terms of ensuring protection for the population, UNHCR calls on states that have received Syrian refugees – including Denmark – to continue their protection,” UNHCR spokeswoman Elisabeth Arnsdorf Haslund said.
The Social Liberal Party urged the government to listen to the UNHCR's recommendations. Its spokesman Andreas Steenberg also stressed that Denmark has no return agreement with Syria, which is why sending the refugees back would imply cooperation with Bashar Assad and his government, which Copenhagen has avoided doing.
The national-conservative Danish People's Party, by contrast, sees the decision as symbolic and has no qualms about cooperating with Assad.
“We just have to see that Assad has been sitting there for a number of years. He is not so easy to get rid of, though we might wish for it,” the party's foreign rapporteur and former leader Pia Kjærsgaard told the newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad.
In total, there are over 40,000 Syrians living in Denmark, a nation of 5.8 million.