Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria

Only one of the three parties in Denmark’s coalition government has stated it wants to repatriate women with national connections to Denmark from Kurdish-run prison camps in Syria.

Danish government split over repatriation of women and children from Syria
Danish Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen during a parliamentary committee hearing on women and children with Danish nationality who are confined in prison camps in northeastern Syria. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

The Moderate party, one of the junior parties in the coalition, wants Danish children to be repatriated from the al-Roj prison camp in northern Syria, even if it means their mothers are evacuated with them.

The other two parties, the Social Democrats and Liberals (Venstre), still oppose bringing the women back to Denmark.

The two latter parties have stated that they only want to evacuate the children and not the mothers, who are in the camps because they have been sympathisers of the Islamic State (Isis) terror group or spouses of Isis militants.

As such, the government is split over the question of whether to retrieve the five children and three mothers from the camp, where they have now been marooned for several years.

Human rights organisations have in the past expressed concerns over the conditions at the prison camps and Denmark has faced criticism for not evacuating children there who have connections to Denmark.


Current government policy does not evacuate children from the two camps without their mothers and will not evacuate mothers if their Danish citizenship has been revoked.

A recent headline case saw a mother from the camp win an appeal against a Danish immigration ministry decision to revoke her citizenship, meaning she now has the right to be evacuated. She was expected to be prosecuted by Denmark under terrorism laws on her return to the country.

Denmark’s Scandinavian neighbour Norway on Wednesday repatriated two sisters who went to Syria as teenagers as well as their three children, citing abysmal conditions in the camp where they were housed.

Foreign Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen, leader of the Moderate party, said at a parliamentary committee hearing on Wednesday that the government will state its agreed position on the issue “soon”, news wire Ritzau reports.

“The government will make a decision on the government’s position on the basis of the updated government policy position. And I expect we will do that soon,” he said.

Rasmussen said in January that the government had asked the relevant authorities to provide up-to-date information related to the Danish children who remain in the camps.

That information is expected to form the “policy position” (beslutningsgrundlag) referred to by Rasmussen in his committee comments.

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Denmark to ’get off its high horse’ with fresh foreign policy approach

Denmark’s foreign minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen this week presented a new foreign policy approach by the country which includes a more open approach to countries whose values do not always mirror those in the Nordic country.

Denmark to ’get off its high horse’ with fresh foreign policy approach

Last year’s invasion of Ukraine by Russia has changed the way Denmark must build relationship with countries whose values might diverge significant from Danish ones, Rasmussen said in a speech at the University of Copenhagen this week, when he presented new government foreign policy positions.

In addition to ongoing support of Ukraine as it defends itself against the invasion, the strategy also includes support for Nato missions and adding three new EU member states: Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia.

The strategy is the first of its kind to be presented since the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the minister described the change to Denmark’s approach as one or “pragmatic realism”.

“We must address the world as it actually is and not as we want it to be. With a realistic approach,” Rasmussen said in comments reported by broadcaster DR.

That means less preaching and more listening in Denmark’s dealings with countries outside of its closest group of allies, he said.

“It’s okay to think – we should think – that our values are right and give better lives than the ones in other places. But we must not become missionising. We shouldn’t go out and try to tell the world what’s right,” he said.

Rasmussen specifically cited Denmark’s relations with countries in Africa as an area in which such an approach is relevant.

The Nordic country sees itself as a proponent of equality and fighting corruption but these things should not necessarily be top of the agenda during official visits, he said.

“We have to offer something else. Because if we go to Africa with only this in our luggage, we’ll find African leaders who say ‘well, we need water, infrastructure and something that creates jobs. And the Chinese are offering us all of that, so can you save us the sermon’,” he said.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine means Denmark must do more to build allies and relationships across the world because of the need for support in arenas like the UN, Rasmussen said.

“Two thirds of the world’s population live in countries that are neutral towards or directly support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine,” he said.

DR’s political analyst Jens Ringberg said the comments suggest Denmark will be “a bit less up on its high horse” in dealings with foreign nations.

The analyst cited a recent visit to Denmark by the foreign minister of Uganda, a country which earlier this year made it a criminal offence to identify as LGBTQ.

“Lars Løkke Rasmussen is talking about us needing to have relations with countries, for example in Africa, where we maybe aren’t satisfied with everything they do, because we need their help [supporting Ukraine against Russia],” he said.