In Denmark, Asmaa and her husband, yesterday Syrian refugees, now placed in a detention center

The photo has been shared hundreds of times on social media. Wrapped up in a green coat, a white veil over her head, Asmaa Al-Natour, 50, in tears in the street, reaches out to her neighbor, Gerda Pedersen, 92, leaning out of her window. For six years, the two women lived in the same district of Ringsted, about sixty kilometers southwest of Copenhagen. On October 26, they said goodbye.

Asmaa and her husband, Omar, had to leave their apartment. The couple are no longer allowed to stay in Denmark. But without a repatriation agreement with Syria, Copenhagen cannot force them to return. They were therefore placed in the Sjaelsmark detention center, north of the Danish capital, where they will remain as long as they refuse to leave. “So that my clients understand, I tell them that they are victims of a hostage-taking”, summarizes their lawyer Niels-Erik Hansen.

Ultra-restrictive policy

Originally from Deraa, in southwestern Syria, Asmaa and Omar arrived in Denmark on December 24, 2014, with their youngest child, Wissam, now 21. Fearful of being drafted into the military, the eldest, 25-year-old Hani, had left eight months earlier. In Denmark, boys were granted asylum and their parents were granted temporary protection. They learned Danish, opened a small food store. Their sons started studying computer science.

But on November 16, 2020, an email from the immigration services came to destroy everything. Asmaa and Omar have been informed that their residence permit will not be renewed. In December 2019, the Refugee Appeals Commission in Copenhagen ruled that the situation in Damascus and its region was “More serious enough to justify granting or extending temporary residence permits (…) due to general conditions in the area “. In the process, the Minister of Immigration, Mattias Tesfaye – himself the son of an Ethiopian refugee – ordered the re-examination of 900 cases, including those of Asmaa and her husband. In power since 2019, the Social Democratic government is pursuing an ultra-restrictive immigration policy, aimed at welcoming “zero refugees”.

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So far, the immigration authorities have suspended the residence permits of 620 Syrian refugees. On May 21, before the appeals committee, Asmaa and Omar argued about the risks they would run if they returned to Syria. Omar worked in the Ministry of Agriculture; their two sons are considered deserters by the Syrian army. “As soon as we arrive, we will be kidnapped, imprisoned or killed”, assures Asmaa, who taught Arabic at Deera.

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In Denmark, Asmaa and her husband, yesterday Syrian refugees, now placed in a detention center