The Danish Immigration Service has announced that it deems two more areas of government-controlled Syria as “safe” for returns: Tartous and Latakia. In 2019, Damascus and Rif Damascus were also controversially declared “safe”.
According to the Immigration Service, the security situation in the two governorates has improved, which means Syrian refugees from these areas may lose their temporary protection in Denmark and be forced to return home.
On March 17, two Syrians from Latakia will have their temporary protection revocation appeals heard in front of the Danish Refugee Appeals Board. If the board rules in line with the Immigration Service’s decision to revoke protection, it could set a dangerous precedent for many more Syrian refugees currently settled in Denmark.
The addition of Latakia and Tartous to Denmark’s “safe” list comes despite reports from Human Rights Watch and Amnesty that returning Syrians face grave human rights abuses and persecution at the hands of the Syrian authorities and affiliated militias, including torture, extrajudicial killings, and kidnappings.
All Danish Immigration Service decisions to revoke temporary protection are subject to an appeal by the Refugee Appeals Board. Since the beginning of 2022, the Board has overturned 77 percent of the cases leading to criticism of the Immigration Service from several Danish politicians, saying that the high reversal rates “indicate that the Immigration Service is interpreting the rules too narrowly”.
The designation of Latakia and Tartous as safe comes just weeks after devastating earthquakes hit Turkey and Syria, killing tens of thousands and causing major damage, including to water networks in already severely poverty-stricken Latakia and Tartous. Many people there are now without running water and have a heightened risk from infectious diseases. This disaster exacerbates the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country, where more than 90 percent of the population depends on aid to survive.
While several countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Jordan, and UAE have sought to normalize relations with the Syrian government following the earthquakes, Denmark should refrain from playing into the regime’s hand by announcing Tartous and Latakia “safe.” While active hostilities may have decreased in recent years, the Syrian government continues to subject citizens to the same abuses that led them to flee in the first place, including arbitrary detention, mistreatment, and torture.
Instead of stripping Syrians of protection and leaving them in limbo in deportation centers, Denmark should reverse its decision to revoke protection for some Syrian refugees and recognize that Syrian refugees remain at risk in their home country, no matter which part of the country they come from.