Copenhagen, Denmark – Hundreds of Syrian refugees have extended their sit-in demonstration in front of the Danish parliament into a third week, protesting measures aimed at returning them to the war-ravaged nation.
In April, Denmark – which does not formally recognise the government of Bashar al-Assad – became Europe’s first country to cancel the residency permits of Syrians who hail from the wider Damascus region, which was declared “safe” by Danish authorities.
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The decision was based on a government report regarding the area around the Syrian capital, Damascus.
But 11 of the report’s 12 contributors have since withdrawn their assessment and have criticised the government’s move.
Since May 18, the daily sit-in protest has begun at 10am and ended around 10pm, in the heart of Copenhagen.
Al Jazeera spoke to some who have attended.
Syrian woman who arrived in Denmark at 14: ‘My life has been put on hold’
Aya Abo Daher arrived in Denmark six years ago, from Damascus. She is in the last year of high school in Denmark and had hoped to apply for university.
“I was on a camping trip [in April] with my friends and checked my inbox. I had gotten an email where it said that my application for extended residency had been rejected. It was a huge shock, I have not been able to think of anything else since that day.
“We wanted to come to Denmark because we thought it was safe for us. We have filed a complaint to the Refugee Board on this because we have problems with Assad and his regime. It would be dangerous for us to return. I have tried to forget what happened to us when we were in Syria, I saw dead people all over the streets. Now I am forced to remember this again.
“How can I think about my future now? My life has been put on hold.”
Syrian refugee who went on hunger strike: ‘Damascus is not safe’
Sameer Barakat, 57, arrived in Denmark in 2014 with his wife and three children. They live in a small town outside Copenhagen, having fled from Idlib, northern Syria. He is not at risk of being returned, but sympathises with those who are.
“I chose to hunger strike because the strict rules and injustices happening to immigrants in Denmark cannot continue. My whole body is hurting, but it is most painful seeing the children of Syrian refugees running around here.
“I am afraid of what the future holds for them.
“I am hunger striking in solidarity with all my Syrian friends who are facing a hard time right now. But most of all for the future of the children, for the coming generations. Damascus is not safe.”
Opposition politician: ‘We do not support the government in their conclusion’
Member of Parliament Eva Flyvholm, a left-wing opposition politician, visited the protest. She says her party, Enhedslisten, will continue working to halt the government’s threats of deportations.
“We do not support the government in their conclusion that Damascus is safe. There is a huge risk that people will be disappeared or tortured if they are sent back; several reports from human rights organisations can confirm this.
“There was a hearing with Mattias Tesfaye, [immigration minister], two weeks ago, where he confirmed that Denmark will not make any deals with Bashar al-Assad.
“This is an important step and it means that no one can be sent back to Syria against their own will. The risk is now that they may be forced to wait in departure centres in Denmark. It is problematic that the government keeps speaking about sending out Syrian refugees, it sparks fear.
“We are seeing that this gets a lot of attention in the media and there are demonstrations being held against it. We hope that this will create enough pressure for the government to stop this rhetoric.”
Protest organiser: ‘Here in Denmark, we are dying from fear’
Omar Jabr, co-organiser of the sit-in and a member of the Syrian Association in Denmark, fled Syria six years ago.
“We demand that the government cancels all threats about sending us back to the violent dictatorship we fled from.
“They are saying that a country whose president has killed hundreds of thousands of its citizens is safe enough to return to. The Danish embassy in Damascus is still closed due to the war, as they think it is not safe enough to keep open. How then can it be safe for us to return?
“Politicians are walking in and out of this building every day. They cannot ignore us. The Syrian people were killed by bombs in Syria. Here in Denmark, we are dying from fear that the government will deport us.”
Child of woman whose residency has been cancelled: ‘Our father died from the torture he suffered in one of Assad’s prisons’
Iman Takwa arrived in Denmark six years ago with her two sons, Salim and Zayed, now 14 and 11, respectively. Her residency status was cancelled weeks ago.
The boys attended the protest with their uncle, Fahed Takwa.
Salim: “I have many Danish friends. We came to Denmark because of the war, and we almost died on our trip across the ocean. Our father died from the torture he suffered in one of Assad’s prisons.
“We have not been doing well after we got the message. All of our friends are here, we do not have anything in Syria. I stood in front of my class myself and told them that I may not be able to stay in Denmark any longer. I have tried to forget what happened in Syria.”
Fahed: “I joined my sister for the meeting [to assess her status], and they asked her about her life in Syria and Denmark, finally telling her that they could not extend her residency.
“The kids do not have a father, and she does not want to leave them. They only speak Danish and not Arabic, how can they go back to Syria?”
Syrian father-of-five: ‘I would rather take my own life than getting killed by the regime in Syria’
Faisal Fahed Ashtiwi, from Rif Damascus, and his five children have had their residency status revoked.
“Me and my family first fled to Lebanon in 2014, and later we fled to Denmark. We decided to go to Europe because we thought we could create a good future for our kids here.
“I saw my brother and father getting killed during the war in Syria, and after that my body has reacted heavily.
“My kids are integrated in Danish society, but I do not feel safe when the asylum policies are getting tighter and tighter. Where is the Danish media? Where are the politicians? I intend to sit here until someone listens to us. I would rather take my own life than getting killed by the regime in Syria.”