Yes, There Is Still A War In Syria
But some countries are trying to send refugees back anyway
A few weeks ago, I read a news brief that made me stop dead in my tracks—Denmark was revoking residency permits of Syrian refugees and demanding that they go back to Syria.
I thought I had imagined it—or perhaps that it was fake—as almost no media outlets picked up on it at first. But a few days later, Danish-American activist Alysia Alexandra started posting the stories of Syrians who faced having their residencies revoked—they were students, women, elderly people, many of whom spoke flawless Danish and exemplary grades in a very perfect immigrant kind of a way.
I asked her to connect me to one of them—Rasha, a Syrian mother of two from outside of Damascus, who had been living in Denmark for the past six years. Rasha called me almost immediately, eager to share her story. At first we caught up about the pandemic—as one does—and she told me that she used to work at a hotel, but started taking care of old people when she lost her job in hospitality due to the lockdown. She told me that she loved it, that the people she took care of were nothing like the government that was now demanding that she leave. I admired her ability to distinguish between the two, not sure that I would do the same if I were in her shoes.
A protest in Copenhagen against Denmark’s policies against Syrians living in the country.
“I love them, they love me,” she told me, a quote I later used in the article. “It makes me feel like I can be both Syrian and Danish.”
I didn’t want to believe that a care worker—one of the so-called essential workers that the world over applauded and fawned over at the height of the first round of the Coronavirus pandemic this time last year—could face such treatment. Around the world, immigrants are praised when they are so-called model citizens, contributing to their new country in a way that is easy to package and politicize as an argument in favor of immigration. But this isn’t enough for anyone to be sure that the rug won’t be pulled out from underneath at any minute.
It isn’t easy to place stories about Syria these days—most news outlets seem bored of a war that has gone on for ten years—but I was lucky that my friend Eric Reidy, an editor at The New Humanitarian and a wonderful journalist himself thought it was just as important as I did, and gave me a platform to publish it and space to explore some of the other policies curtailing refugees’ rights across Europe as well as the troubling misconception that Syria is now safe.
It wasn’t an easy article to report—every time I imagined what it would be like to have these protections taken away, my stomach turned. I know too many people who courageously took to the streets ten years ago, hoping for a Syria free from Bashar al-Assad’s tyrannical regime, only to be driven out by bombs, threats and arrests and scattered across the world with no hope of returning unless the regime really does fall and the power dynamics change. While it is true that Syria no longer has the indiscriminate violence that it once had, this is only the case because Bashar al-Assad’s army has recaptured these areas, and asserted its control so formidably that anyone who ever-so-slightly criticizes the government can be arrested, tortured, detained or killed.
The thought of anyone who once stood up to the regime being asked to go back is sickening.
While it is tempting to ask how a so-called democracy like Denmark can consider Syria a safe country, it is useless to ponder this question when there is an explicitly racist and xenophobic motive to rid the country of asylum-seekers. It is also useless to find comfort in the fact that Denmark is (so far) the exception to the rule simply because it is the only country to go so far as to suggest deporting Syrians back to a war zone when in reality many other countries have also been slowly and deliberately making life harder for refugees in need of protection and have done nothing to prove that they will not someday do the same. It is a low, low bar when a country can congratulate itself by not deporting refugees back to a war zone—and comparisons between inhumane policies are useless if the policymakers are not held to account.