Once again, Manal Matar is packing her belongings after receiving a deportation letter from Denmark. Seeking asylum in Europe, the young Syrian refugee escaped her country in 2013 after facing a serious threat of arrest by regime authorities for belonging to a family of dissidents.
After risking her life by travelling the sea route to Europe, Matar arrived in Denmark in 2015. Today, expulsion threatens to lay waste to her hard work in learning Danish and end her employment at a local agriculture company.
“The decision shocked me with its injustice,” Matar told Asharq Al-Awsat, adding that the Danish Immigration Service refused to reconsider revoking her residency permit even after she provided video footage proving her home in Damascus’s Jobar municipality was still in pieces.
Matar noted that her deportation notice was issued in late 2019.
She tried filing for residency permit renewal but was rejected on the grounds of failing to produce official documents that show she was under immediate threat of apprehension by authorities in Syria.
“They are demanding the impossible and turning a blind eye to the truth of the Syrian regime,” she complained.
More than 900 Syrian refugees could be forced to leave Denmark at the moment, revealed Assem Sweid, a veteran activist and a board member of the Copenhagen-based NGO “Finjan.”
“For a period of three years, Denmark showed leniency in granting Syrian refugees asylum without scrutinizing the reasons that led them to leave their country,” Sweid told Asharq Al-Awsat.
The activist, however, noted that Copenhagen shifted to a stricter immigration policy largely due to the rise of right-wing parties across Europe.
Sweid pointed out that refugees like Matar have to make one of two very difficult decisions. “They either return to Damascus voluntarily or end up in designated deportation centers,” he explained.
In practice, Denmark cannot deport refugees to Syria because it does not have official relations with President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
For that reason, it is sending Syrians who lost their temporary residency permits to “departure camps,” where they are not permitted to work and cannot leave on-site facilities for more than 24 hours at a time.
“They left me no choice but to go to another European country,” said Matar, adding that waiting at deportation camps was a “waste of time.”
A 2019 official report entitled “Security Situation in Damascus Province and Issues Regarding Return to Syria” signaled that the Danish government had plans to receive ‘zero’ refugees.
Based on interviews conducted by Arab and foreign journalists and experts in 2018, the report covered the security status of Damascus and its countryside. It also included details on military conscription and facts about entering the war-torn country through the Damascus International Airport.
Overall, the report intended to update Danish authorities’ information on Syrian asylum seekers. But it emboldened far-right politicians calling for refugees to leave and encouraged some leftists to join the pro-deportation bandwagon.
Integration Minister Mattias Tesfaye had openly rejected the EU’s call for distributing arriving Syrians among member countries.