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SYRIA

Wounded reporters: get us out of Syria

Two French reporters, one badly wounded, begged Thursday for rescue from a besieged Syrian opposition enclave, as President Nicolas Sarkozy branded the deaths of two of their colleagues "murder".

Wounded reporters: get us out of Syria

As Edith Bouvier and William Daniels pleaded in a video message for medical evacuation, efforts were being made to get a fifth journalist to safety after he was injured in the same bombardment on an opposition-held district of Homs.

Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad’s regime insisted it could not be held responsible for the deaths of journalists who had “sneaked” across the border without visas and were working in “trouble-hit areas”.

But Syrian information minister Adnan Mahmud told AFP that the governor of Homs had been ordered to find the reporters and bring them out safely.

Meanwhile, anger was mounting in Western capitals at what leaders and human rights groups see as the deliberate shelling of civilian targets by regime forces and in particular for the deaths of the journalists.

“Those who did this will have to account for it,” Sarkozy said.

“Thanks to globalisation, you can no longer commit murder under cover of utter silence. I saw the images. There was a decision to bombard a place because journalists were there,” he alleged.

Asked about the fate of a Sunday Times photographer, the British Foreign Office said: “All the necessary work is being done on repatriating Marie Colvin’s body and ensuring Paul Conroy gets to safety. We can’t give you any more detail of that at the moment.”

Earlier the Foreign Office said Conroy, 47, was on his way out of Homs but a government source said the situation had changed.

The events surrounding the deaths of Colvin, 56, and 28-year-old Ochlik are not yet clear, but local activists opposed to Assad said they were killed when government troops opened fire with heavy weapons on a rebel press centre.

Colvin was a prizewinning correspondent renowned for a 25-year career covering conflict around the world. Her mother also said she believed her daughter had been killed deliberately by the regime.

“My daughter was murdered by these people,” Rosemarie Colvin said in an interview with CNN. “That’s what they’ve done.”

Meanwhile, the two journalists still trapped in Homs made a dramatic appeal for assistance in a video shot and uploaded to the Internet by anti-regime activists. Shelling could be heard in the background as they spoke.

Bouvier, a reporter for the French daily Le Figaro, appeared calm and coherent, even occasionally smiling weakly as she addressed the camera.

“My leg is broken at the level of the femur, along its length and also horizontally. I need to be operated upon as soon as possible,” she said. 

“The doctors here have treated me very well, as much as they are able, but they are not able to undertake surgical procedures,” she said.

“I need a ceasefire and a medically-equipped vehicle, or at least one in good condition, that can get me to the Lebanese border so that I can be treated in the shortest possible time,” she said, lying on a sofa under a blanket.

She is seen alongside a man in medical scrubs with a stethoscope who spoke briefly in Arabic to describe Bouvier’s condition and repeat her request to be evacuated urgently.

Bouvier said the video was shot on Thursday at 3.00 pm (1200 GMT). It was posted on the YouTube video-sharing site and Syrian activists opposed to Bashar al-Assad’s regime quickly emailed links to it to news organisations.

Daniels said he had been not himself been hurt in Wednesday’s shelling, but said that the situation was getting tougher, with no power and little food getting through during the siege.

“Our morale is good, she’s strong, she’s smiling,” he said of his colleague, adding that he is a freelance on assignment for Le Figaro and Time magazine.

“I hope the French authorities can help us as quickly as possible because it’s difficult here. We have no electricity. We don’t have much to eat, bombs are still falling. We need to get out by medical evacuation.”

SYRIA

‘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.

READ ALSO:

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.

READ ALSO:

 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.

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