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Copenhagen, Denmark – Rihab Kassem, a retired nurse and grandmother of Syrian and Palestinian origin, came to Denmark over eight years ago.
She lived in Yarmouk, an unofficial camp in Damascus for Palestinian refugees in Syria.
Her original plan was to visit Waled, her son, who has lived in Denmark since 1996 and has long been a citizen of the Scandinavian country.
But after her arrival, as the war in Syria intensified, violence engulfed her refugee camp.
She applied for asylum and in January 2014 the Danish authorities issued her a residence permit for five years. It was then extended for another two years. She was later granted temporary protection status.
Her new life grew as the one she knew in Syria faded away. She enjoyed spending time in Europe with her children and grandchildren.
But earlier this year, when the Danish government made a controversial decision To declare parts of Syria safe enough to return, her application for a residence permit was rejected and she was summoned for an interview.
Kassem, 66, was nervous but hoped.
However, two months later, she was informed that her permit had been revoked because the Danish government felt that security in Damascus, the capital of Syria, and surrounding areas had improved enough to be called home again.
“Where to return? I have no one, nothing in Syria, ”she told Al Jazeera. “My family lives in Denmark and I am the only one who was asked to leave.
“We are not beggars here, we work, we work hard, we go to school, we pay taxes, and this happens to us … I cannot understand this.”
Kassem is moving and breathing hard.
She says her lungs are working at 35 percent of their capacity as a result of an attack coordinated by the Syrian army using poisonous gas.
She hoped to receive treatment in Denmark, but since her residence permit has been revoked, she is no longer eligible for government support or national health care.
“Having worked as a nurse for three decades, my dream was to make enough money to build a hospital next door. [in Syria]”, she said.
She saved enough to buy a piece of land and a house to be converted into a hospital. But during the renovation, the house was bombed.
“Suddenly there is nothing left. Nothing, she said.
In the official letter in which she rejected the application for a residence permit, three reasons were given.
First, her children are already adults and no longer depend on her. Second, the letter stated that Damascus was considered safe in the Danish government’s report and argued that her life would not be in danger. Finally, although the authorities admitted that she had health problems, they said they were not serious enough to justify her stay in Denmark.
“The stress in which I live is incomprehensible,” she said. “The rules keep changing, the government is not fulfilling the terms of the contract.”
When Al Jazeera contacted the Danish Immigration Service for a response, the press officer shared a document explaining why Kassem’s status was revoked.
Rihab rejects all government claims and from May 18 protester against alleged attempts to deport refugees along with several others in front of the Danish parliament.
She intends to remain on the sit-in until she receives more concrete answers or is forced to leave.
At one point, she went on a three-day hunger strike.
Hundreds of Syrians in Denmark have found themselves in a similarly precarious position after the government’s widely criticized statements about the security of Damascus.
It was the first European country to make such a statement.
But since Denmark has no diplomatic relations with Syria – it does not recognize the government of President Bashar al-Assad – the refugees cannot be forced to return.
Most likely, they will be sent to deportation camps – or “departure centers” – in Denmark.
“They have a ‘tolerant’ status: deported from political and social systems, but not physically deported,” said Violeta Ligrien Janes, a freelance facilitator and teacher who worked with the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance.
Most will refuse to go. Some will try to seek refuge elsewhere.
“They are [Danish authorities] there are two options: either I will be sent to a deportation camp or to a hospital, but I will not leave, ”Kassem said.
“Treat us like people, we deserve to be treated like people. We have seen so many difficulties in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and even when we come here to Denmark – a supposedly free country – it happens to us … So my main message is that I want to be treated like a human being. Syria is unsafe. “
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