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Efforts in Austria to Declare Damascus “Safe”: Are Refugees Forced to Return?

Austria and Denmark are working together to push for the resumption of deportations to Syria, according to al-Souria Net.
Efforts in Austria to Declare Damascus “Safe”: Are Refugees Forced to Return?

Austrian Interior Minister Gerhard Karner has discussed plans to resume deportations of refugees to Syria, aiming to designate Damascus and its surrounding areas as “safe.” 

In an interview with OE24 on Wednesday, Karner emphasized efforts to reinstate deportations to Syria promptly. 

“We are collaborating with Denmark to push for the resumption of deportations to Syria, citing the perceived safety of the Damascus region,” Karner stated. 

He clarified that current returns to Syria and Afghanistan are not enforced but rather voluntary or through deportation to a third country. 

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“If refugees have established connections in other countries, such as Bulgaria, they may be deported there,” he added. 

Karner stressed the objective of enabling deportations to Afghanistan and Syria once again. 

According to UNHCR statistics, Austria is home to approximately 58,000 Syrian refugees, forming the largest portion of the total refugee population of 146,000.

Recent calls in some European nations advocate for declaring certain areas in Syria as “safe” for refugee deportations. 

Denmark led the way in 2019 by designating Damascus and its surroundings as “safe zones” and subsequently revoking temporary protection for Syrian refugees from these areas. 

In March 2023, Denmark expanded the list to include Tartous and Latakia governorates, citing improved security conditions. 

Despite the UN classification of most Syrian regions as “unsafe,” Denmark stands as the first EU nation to deny refugee status to Syrians. 

Meanwhile, Cyprus has intensified efforts to persuade the European Union to establish “safe zones” in Syria to repatriate Syrian refugees and stem the refugee influx into Europe. 

Cypriot Interior Minister Konstantinos Ioannou recently urged the EU to reassess the Syrian situation following a surge in asylum seekers from Syria to Europe. 

Cyprus has become a migration hotspot towards Europe since the closure of the Turkish route to Greek islands under a 2016 agreement between the EU and Ankara. 

Human rights reports caution against deporting Syrians back to their homeland, citing documented cases of returnees facing violations, including arrest, enforced disappearance, and torture.


This article was translated and edited by The Syrian Observer. The Syrian Observer has not verified the content of this story. Responsibility for the information and views set out in this article lies entirely with the author.

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