The U.K. government has refused the asylum application of a Syrian man who fled his homeland to evade conscription into Bashar al-Assad’s army in 2017, telling the applicant his fear of persecution is not accurate, and it is safe for him to return home.
The story, first reported by The Guardian is understood to be the first of its kind in Britain and a change in strategy from the U.K. Home Office, which until now, has not returned asylum seekers who opposed the Syrian president’s regime.
The 25-year-old Syrian refugee, who first sought sanctuary in Britain back in May 2020, told the U.K. Home Office in his application for asylum that should he be returned to his home country he would be fearful of being targeted as a draft evader — that is, someone who has avoided mandatory conscription into Syria’s armed forces — and believed he would risk being arrested, detained and killed.
However, in a refusal letter dated December 2021 seen by the left-wing British newspaper, Home Office officials told the Syrian man they were “not satisfied to a reasonable degree of likelihood that you have a well-founded fear of persecution.”
“It is not accepted that you will face a risk of persecution or real risk of serious harm on return to the Syrian Arab Republic due to your imputed political opinion as a draft evader,” the letter continued.
The applicant confirmed that his legal representative is appealing against the Home Office decision, with his solicitor adding that “this is the first Syrian asylum refusal case she has seen.”
Asked by The Guardian for comment, a Home Office spokesperson said: “All asylum applications are considered on their individual merits on a case-by-case basis and in line with current published policy.”
The change in strategy by the U.K. government, should it prove to be so, is reminiscent of asylum policy in Denmark, which became the first European country to defy human rights groups and the European Commission in March 2020 by revoking temporary residence permits for some Syrian refugees after declaring that parts of the country, including its capital Damascus, were now safe to return to.
“We must give people protection for as long as it is needed. But when conditions in the home country improve, a former refugee should return home and re-establish a life there,” insisted Danish immigration minister, Mattias Tesfaye, at the time, which was seen as generally fitting with Denmark’s hardline position on immigration.
Sweden, in part, followed suit shortly thereafter, declaring that parts of Syria are safe enough to no longer automatically approve all asylum applications, with the government stating that security had improved enough in seven provinces to begin rejecting certain applications.