They did not speak a word of Danish yet the Scandinavian country was an outpost of calm for the siblings, who fled the destruction and death that followed the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011.
On arriving in 2015, it only took them a year to learn the language, and now Dania is months away from finishing high school in the Danish port of Kolding. “We were very happy at the beginning and felt safe being here,” Dania, who hopes to work in bio-medicine, said. “We [wanted] a good future, therefore we did everything [we could] to learn Danish.”
The siblings asked CNN to withhold their last name due to concerns for family members back in Syria.
Hussam, 20, described Denmark as a place of peace, a country where his family felt at home, and “a society that gives you the freedom to live the way you want.” He hoped to study engineering or medicine once he completed high school next year.
Those dreams were dashed when Denmark became the first democratic European nation to tell Syrian refugees originating from Damascus and its surrounding countryside to return to the war-torn nation.
“We disagree with the decision to deem the Damascus area, or any other area [in Syria], safe for refugees,” Charlotte Slente, the secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council, told CNN.
The Danish minister for immigration and integration, Mattias Tesfaye, defended the policy in a statement to CNN, saying that “Denmark has been open and honest from day one” that residence permits for Syrian refugees are “temporary, and that the permit can be revoked if the need for protection ceases to exist.”
“The approach of the Danish government is to provide protection to those in need of it, but when the conditions in their home country have improved, former refugees should return to the home country and reestablish their life there,” Tesfaye added.
Dania and Hussam’s family have been caught in the dragnet. The Danish Immigration Service uprooted their lives in February by refusing to extend their father’s residency permit, which their own visas are linked to, according to their lawyer Daniel Nørrung. Dania and Hussam had been told to leave Denmark by March 5, but with the help of a lawyer, the family is challenging the decision with the Refugee Appeals Board.
“It’s a bit problematic, Dania and Hussam were given a date to leave Denmark when their father’s case has not even been finalized,” Nørrung told CNN.
“We are going to languish in a center, where people are broken down, humiliated and held in helplessness and hopelessness, instead of being able to go out and…