Denmark evacuates women and children from Syria: What happens next?

Esbjerg District Court, where one of three repatriated Danish mothers was due to appear for preliminary proceedings under terrorism laws on Thursday October 7th.
Esbjerg District Court, where one of three repatriated Danish mothers was due to appear for preliminary proceedings under terrorism laws on Thursday October 7th. Photo: Claus Fisker/Ritzau Scanpix
Fourteen children and their three Danish mothers have arrived in Denmark after being repatriated by the government from a detention camp for former Isis militants and sympathisers in Syria.

The women and children, who waited for months to leave the camps after the government agreed to repatriate them earlier this year, are now in Denmark after leaving the al-Roj camp yesterday.

The three mothers were earlier reported to be in police custody, scheduled to appear at preliminary court hearings in Kolding, Esbjerg and Frederiksberg on Thursday. All three women are charged with joining the Islamic State terror group in Syria. Prosecution authorities were to apply for them to be remanded in custody.

All hearings were to take place behind closed doors, meaning any statements given by the women will not be made public.

Evacuation of the women and children took place calmly and without incident, a Foreign Ministry representative said on Thursday.

“The mothers and children were looking forward to coming to Denmark,” Erik Brøgger Rasmussen, director of organisation and citizens’ services at the ministry, said at a briefing.

The National Board of Social Services (Socialstyrelsen) said that the children will have “calm” futures but would not be given special treatment, after social services in relevant municipalities received the children on their arrival.

“The 14 children will be integrated into Danish society. They will have a childhood with security and school and calm in the future,” National Board of Social Services director Ellen Klarskov Lauritzen said at the briefing.

“But they will not be given special treatment of either positive or negative variety,” Lauritzen added.

No information was given as to the condition of the children and the social authority said it would not reveal which municipalities have now taken them in.

Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen meanwhile said in parliament on Thursday that the government would not evacuate any more parents from the camps in Syria.

“It could be necessary to evacuate more children from Syria, but not more parents,” Frederiksen said.

The PM repeated her known stance that the government was willing to help children but not parents who have “turned their back on Denmark”.

In practice, that means Denmark refuses to evacuate mothers unless they have sole Danish citizenship.

If the mothers are connected to Denmark, for example by prior residence or through marriage or if their children were born there, they will not be evacuated unless they hold citizenship. Denmark has revoked the citizenship of some of the persons involved.

If they have dual citizenship, they will also be refused evacuation – although the government has broken with this policy in one instance.

Their children can be extracted from the camps, but this requires the mothers to agree to separation from their children.

“We’ve offered to evacuate the children. But it’s the parents’ decision if we are not given permission to help them,” Frederiksen said in parliament.

The opposition Liberal (Venstre) party has called for mothers to be forcibly separated from their children in these instances, citing neglect as justification.

Frederiksen said she agreed that the children had been neglected by their mothers but that it was the “task of social authorities” to act as caseworkers, not politicians.

Lobby group Save the Children called for the the repatriation process to continue.

“We welcome the news that the Danish and German governments have taken 37 children out of the miserable conditions they had been living in,” said the group’s Syria Response Director Sonia Khush. Germany brought home eight women and 23 children in the same operation that saw Denmark evacuate its nationals.

“Children in the camps face harsh conditions, with limited freedom of movement, inadequate basic services including water and education, and an ever-present risk of violence,” Khush said.

She also urged Denmark to revisit its decision to strip three mothers of their nationality while seeking to bring their children back to Europe.

“Mothers should not have to choose between staying with their children in camps with such harsh humanitarian conditions and letting go of them where they would have to live on their own,” she said.

READ ALSO: Organisation sues Denmark for failure to evacuate children from Syrian camps

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