Denmark has become the first European nation to tell Syrian migrants they must return to their home country, saying it is now safe for them there.
The Scandinavian nation has stripped 94 Syrian refugees of their residency permits after it determined Damascus and the surrounding area as being safe.
Migrants will be sent to deportation camps, but will not be forced to leave. But rights groups say the government is trying to give migrants no other option than to return to Syria on their own accord.
'We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary. It can be withdrawn if protection is no longer needed,' he said, according to The Daily Telegraph.
His comments came as Denmark extended the parts on Syria considered safe for people to return, to include the southern Rif Dimashq Governorate.
'We must give people protection for as long as it is needed. But when conditions in the home country improve, a former refugee should return home and re-establish a life there,' he said.
Denmark's ruling centre-Left Social Democratic Party has taken a fierce anti-immigration stance in an effort to fend off challenges from parties on the Right.
Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen has promised to target 'zero' asylum seekers applying for residence in the country.
While Germany had previously ruled that criminals can be deported to Syria, Denmark is the first country in Europe to say refugees can be returned.
The decision made by Denmark on the Rif Dimashq Governorate now means that a further 350 Syrian residents in the country will have their temporary protection permits reassessed.
This is on top of the roughly 900 refugees from Damascus who had their cases reopened last year.
By mid-January, The Telegraph reports that 94 Syrians from the Damascus area living in Denmark had seen their permits revoked.
This came after a December 2019 ruling by Denmark's Refugee Appeals Board that the conditions in Damascus were no longer sufficiently dangerous to give grounds for temporary protection, without any additional personal reason to give asylum.
But human rights groups have spoken out against Denmark's move to send people back to war-torn Syria.
Steve Valdez-Symonds, Refugee and Migrant Rights Director at Amnesty International UK, told the MailOnline: 'That the Danish government is seeking to force people back into the hands of this brutal regime is an appalling affront to refugee law and people's right to be safe from persecution.
'This reckless violation of Denmark's duty to provide asylum also risks increasing incentives for other countries to abandon their own obligations to Syrian refugees.
'Not only will this put the lives of even more women, men and children at risk. It will add to reasons that cause people to travel ever further afield in search of safety and security for themselves and their family.'
Michala Bendixen, from the rights group Refugees Welcome, said that Syrian refugees in Syria now faced a 'very, very tragic situation', and would be forced from their homes, jobs and studies and into Denmark's deportation camps.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Bendixen said the refugees face years of limbo, and while they will not be forced onto planes, she said Denmark is hoping that the refugees will have no other option other than to return to Syria.
'The government hopes that they will go voluntarily, that they will just give up and go on their own,' she told the newspaper.
Normally, refugees who do not leave Denmark voluntarily or if the country has no repatriation arrangement in place with their home country are accommodated at 'departure centres'.
This is the case for Syrian refugees in Denmark because the country does not cooperate with the Assad regime.
But Denmark's opposition Liberal party, a Right-wing organisation, called for the returns to be accelerated through an agreement with the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad, Syria's authoritarian ruler.
'I can imagine an agreement that will only extend to the framework for sending people back, with some guarantees that you can return without being persecuted,' Mads Fuglede, the foreign spokesperson for the opposition Liberal Party, told Denmark's Jyllands-Posten newspaper.
This, he said, would prevent Syrians from being stranded in deportation camps.
'If Denmark doesn't think that can be done, we should push for dialogue with the Assad regime at EU level,' Fuglede added.
However, he later took to Facebook to say that his proposed deal in no way suggested recognising the 'criminal dictatorship' of Assad.
'I want to stress that the Liberal party does not think Denmark should recognise the Assad regime,' he wrote, adding that the regime is a 'criminal dictatorship which we in no way wish to rubber-stamp'.
'But we should discuss what to do with all the Syrian refugees in Europe as Syria has become safer around Damascus, and how they can safely return to their country,' he explained.
'But it is clear that if this can only be done by recognising Assad, then it can't be done. Then we'll have to find other options.'
Denmark's ruling centre-Left Social Democratic Party has already rejected the prospect of discussing a repriatration agreement with Assad's regime.
'It would send the completely wrong signal that we consider Assad to be the victor in Syria,' the party's immigration spokesman Rasmus Stoklund told Jyllands-Posten.
Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod has also said the government does not support the proposal.
'It is completely wrong to cooperate with one of history's worst dictators… just to look tough (on immigration). These are people we're talking about,' Social Liberal spokesperson for immigration Andreas Steenberg tweeted.
Denmark is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which prevents asylum seekers from being deported if they risk torture or persecution in their home countries.
The Syrian civil war, which began on March 15, 2011 as part of the wider 2011 Arab Spring protests and involved a number of different factions including Assad's Syrian Arab Republic, Hezbollah, ISIS and the U.S.-supported the Autonomous Administration of North and East Syria, displaced millions of Syrians.
Pre-war, the population of the Syrian Arab Republic was estimated at 22 million, with the UN identifying 13.5 million of that number as displaced persons, requiring humanitarian assistance.
The war, along with conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa - among others - contributed to the European Migrant Crisis said to have begun in 2014, which saw millions of migrants flee into Europe.
The majority - 46.7 percent - are believed to have been Syrian.
On Monday, the United Nations investigators said that thousands of civilians had been subjected to 'unimaginable suffering' including torture, sexual violence and death in detention during a decade of conflict in Syria.
The report said that men, women, boys and girls detained by government or pro-government forces had been subjected to inhuman treatment and torture, including rape.
'At least 20 different horrific methods of torture used by the government of Syria have been extensively documented,' the report said.
'These include administering electric shocks, the burning of body parts, pulling off nails and teeth, mock executions, folding detainees into a car tyre and crucifying or suspending individuals from one or two limbs for prolonged periods, often in combination with severe beating.'
Tens of thousands of civilians who were detained are unaccounted for, with no trace of their whereabouts, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria found.
The three-member panel's report was based upon more than 2,500 interviews conducted over 10 years and investigations into more than 100 detention facilities.
It found that almost every major party that has controlled territory in Syria since 2011 has committed detention-related violations and abuses.
'Hundreds of thousands of family members have a right to the truth about their loved ones' fate,' said commission chair Paulo Pinheiro.
'This is a national trauma that needs to be urgently addressed by action from the parties and the international community.'
The report stressed that detainees continued to be mistreated in notorious detention facilities even as the conflict approached its 11th year.
'These detainees have endured unimaginable suffering,' the commission said.
'This has been happening with the knowledge and acquiescence of the governments who have supported the different parties to the conflict.
'The fate of tens of thousands of civilians who were forcibly disappeared by Syrian government forces, many nearly a decade ago, remains unknown. Many are presumed to have died or been executed.'
Commissioner Karen Koning AbuZayd said parties to the conflict had, with few exceptions, failed to investigate their own forces, with the focus seemingly on concealing rather than probing crimes committed in detention facilities.
The authors called for all parties in the conflict to stop violations, immediately release certain categories of detainee and allow independent monitoring of detention facilities.
Its findings will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council on March 11.
The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria was mandated by the council to investigate and record all violations of international law since March 2011 in the country.
The commission has repeatedly accused the various sides of war crimes and in some cases crimes against humanity.
Since Syria's civil war broke out in 2011, more than 387,000 people have been killed and millions forced from their homes.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.