Denmark to evacuate dual national from Syrian camp in exception to own policy

A Danish woman with dual nationality is to be evacuated along with her children from a detention camp in Syria, in an exception to normal government policy.

Denmark to evacuate dual national from Syrian camp in exception to own policy
Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye cited "exceptional circumstances" in the repatriation of a dual Danish national from a Syrian prison camp. Photo:

Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye has defended the government’s decision to evacuate a woman and her children from a prison camp in Syria after it emerged the woman was a dual national, and therefore ostensibly not eligible for rescue under government policy.

Government policy is to refuse to repatriate anyone with dual nationality if they are in the camps, which are used to accommodate former Isis militants and sympathisers such as spouses, and their children. Only women with no other citizenship than Danish are considered for repatriation by the government.

After broadcaster DR earlier reported that one woman with dual citizenship was allowed to return to Denmark, while four others must remain at the camps, the lawyer for the women accused the government of double standards.

“The entire primary argument of the government is gone. You can’t say that one person with dual citizenship is okay to come home while others can’t,” the lawyer, Knud Foldschack, told DR.

Tesfaye subsequently defended the decision as criticism of the government by conservative parties began to mount.

“We are in a situation here where we are making an exception because there are some special circumstances in this case,” Tesfaye told DR.

“We are dealing with the evacuation of children. The evacuation is imminent,” he added.

Tesfaye was referring specifically to the planned evacuation of three women and 14 children from detention camps in Syria, of which the dual national in question is one of the three women.

The minister did not elaborate on the “special circumstances” that apply in the woman’s case.

In May this year, the government said it would evacuate women and children with Danish nationality from the Al-Hol and Al-Roj camps in northeastern Syria, reversing a longstanding stance in which it declined to extract them from the camps.

A further five children with connection to Denmark are also slated to be evacuated to Denmark, but without their mothers, who have had their Danish citizenships withdrawn. However, the mothers are required to give their permission and therefore allow themselves to be separated from their children in order that they be rescued.


Conservative parties argue that the woman in question should have been stripped of her Danish citizenship like the latter group of women, preventing her return to Denmark.

The woman has seven children, according to reports by DR and newspaper Ekstra Bladet.

Tesfaye also noted that the Danish policy security service PET did not have any security-related objections to repatriating the woman.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


‘I can’t go back’: Syrian refugees in Denmark face limbo after status revoked

Bilal Alkale's family is among the hundred or so Syrian refugees in Denmark whose lives are on hold amid an insufferable legal limbo -- their temporary residency permits have been revoked but they can't be deported. Now, they have no rights.

Syrian refugee Bilal Alkale and his daughter Rawan at their home in Lundby, Denmark on November 17th 2021. 
Syrian refugee Bilal Alkale and his daughter Rawan at their home in Lundby, Denmark on November 17th 2021. Photo: Thibault Savary / AFP

Alkale, who until recently ran his own small transportation company in Denmark, found out in March he wasn’t allowed to stay in the Scandinavian country where he has lived as a refugee since 2014, as Copenhagen now considers it safe for Syrians to return to Damascus.

His wife and three of his four children were also affected by the decision taken by Danish authorities.

Once the ruling was confirmed on appeal in late September — like 40 percent of some 200 other cases examined so far — Alkale and his family were ordered to leave.

READ ALSO: Danish refugee board overturns decisions to send home Syrians

They were told that if they didn’t go voluntarily, they would be placed in a detention centre.

The family has refused to leave.

Normally they would have been deported by now, but since Copenhagen has no diplomatic relations with Damascus, they can’t be. And so they wait.

Days and weeks go by without any news from the authorities.

In the meantime, the family has been stripped of their rights in Denmark.

Alkale can’t sleep, his eyes riveted on his phone as he keeps checking his messages.

“What will become of me now?” the 51-year-old asks.

“Everything is off. The kids aren’t going to school, and I don’t have work,” he says, the despair visible on his weary face as he sits in the living room of the home he refurbished himself in the small village of Lundby, an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of Copenhagen.

“All this so people will get annoyed enough to leave Denmark.”

For him, returning to Syria means certain death.  

“I can’t go back, I’m wanted,” he tells AFP.

And yet, he has no way to earn a living here.

“As a foreigner staying illegally in Denmark, your rights are very limited,” notes his lawyer Niels-Erik Hansen, who has applied for new residency permits for the family.

In mid-2020, Denmark became the first European Union country to re-examine the cases of about 500 Syrians from Damascus, which is under the control of Bashar al-Assad’s regime, saying “the current situation in Damascus is no longer such as to justify a residence permit or the extension of a residence permit”. 

The decision was later widened to include the neighbouring region of Rif Dimashq.

Despite a wave of Danish and international criticism, the Social Democratic government — which has pursued one of Europe’s toughest immigration policies — has refused to budge.


The Alkale family is considering leaving for another European country, even though they risk being sent back to Denmark. 

Alkale’s oldest child was already over the age of 18 when they arrived in Denmark and therefore has her own residency permit, currently under review.

Of the three other children, only the youngest, 10-year-old Rawan, still has the carefree ways of a child.

Majed, 14, says he’s “bummed”, while Said, 17, who was studying to prepare for professional chef school, says he now has no idea what his future holds.

Only a handful of Syrians have so far been placed in detention centres, regularly criticised for poor sanitary conditions.

Asmaa al-Natour and her husband Omar are among the few.

They live in the Sjælsmark camp, a former army barracks surrounded by barbed wire and run by the prisons system since late October.

“This centre should disappear, it’s not good for humans, or even for animals. There are even rats,” says al-Natour.


 The couple, who have two sons aged 21 and 25, arrived in Denmark in 2014.

“My husband and I opened a shop selling Arabic products, it was going well. Then I decided to resume my studies, but now everything has just stopped,” says al-Natour, who “just wants to get (her) life back.” 

“Going back to Syria means going to prison, or even death, since we’re opposed to Bashar al-Assad. He’s a criminal.”

Niels-Erik Hansen, who also represents this couple, says his clients are being “held hostage by the Danish authorities.”

The government is trying “to spread the message that ‘in Denmark, we almost deport to Syria’,” he says.

Amnesty International recently criticised Syrian security forces’ use of violence against dozens of refugees who returned home.

Danish authorities meanwhile insist it’s safe for Syrians to go back.

“If you aren’t personally persecuted … there haven’t been acts of war in Damascus for several years now. And that is why it is possible for some to go back,” the government’s spokesman for migration, Rasmus Stoklund, tells AFP.

Some 35,500 Syrians currently live in Denmark, more than half of whom arrived in 2015, according to official statistics.