Denmark has become the first European nation to tell Syrian migrants they must return to their home country, saying it is now safe for them there.
The Scandinavian nation has already stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their residency permits after it said the capital Damascus and the surrounding area are now safe.
Copenhagen has now also just reclassed the southern Rif Dimashq Governorate area of Syria as safe to return to, which means that a further 350 Syrian residents in Denmark will have their temporary protection permits reassessed, along with roughly 900 refugees from Damascus, EuroWeekly reports.
Migrants will be sent to deportation camps but will not be forced to leave. However, rights groups say the government is trying to give migrants no other option than to return to Syria of their own accord.
Mattias Tesfaye, Denmark’s immigration minister, said last month that the country had been “open and honest from the start” with refugees coming from Syria.
“We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary. It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed,” he said, according to the Daily Telegraph.
“We must give people protection for as long as it is needed. But when conditions in their home country improve, former refugees should return home and re-establish a life there,” he said.
Denmark’s ruling centre-Left Social Democratic Party has taken a fierce anti-immigration stance in an effort to fend off anti-migrant challenges from opposition parties on the right which are gaining popularity among voters.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has promised to aim for zero asylum seekers applying for residence in the country.
Germany had previously ruled that convicted criminals can be deported back to Syria, but Denmark is the first country in Europe to say that all refugees can be returned when the time is right.
Human rights groups have spoken out against Copenhagen’s move to send people back to a country that remains ravaged by war.
“That the Danish government is seeking to force people back into the hands of this brutal regime is an appalling affront to refugee law and people’s right to be safe from persecution,” said Steve Valdez-Symonds, refugee and migrant rights director at Amnesty International UK, reports the Arab News.
“This reckless violation of Denmark’s duty to provide asylum also risks increasing incentives for other countries to abandon their own obligations to Syrian refugees.”