Open letter from former Danish minister Inger Støjberg to Syrian refugees in her country: “Now you may say thank you – and then pack your luggage and go home”

An open letter by ex-Venstre politician Inger Støjberg is currently causing a stir in Denmark and beyond. In it, she addresses the “Syrian refugees” in Denmark and calls on them to return home. The current debate about the return of Syrian migrants is a ” hour of destiny” for Danish society. According to Støjberg, the Syrians have a human and moral responsibility to make the return journey to their home country. The daily Berlingske sums up their position as follows: “Now you may say thank you – and then you may pack your luggage and go home.”

Støjberg was Minister for Foreigners and Integration in the liberal-conservative government of Lars Løkke Rasmussen from 2015 to 2019, which advocated a strict policy regarding foreigners similar to the current Social Democratic government. In March 2017, Støjberg celebrated the 50th tightening of the law on foreigners during her term in office with cake and candles and posted the photo on Facebook.

In her open letter, Støjberg admits that she realised early on that the “departure” of Syrians from Denmark, now also promised by Social Democratic Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, would be accompanied by an “outcry”: “It was not difficult to foresee that headmasters, debaters, red politicians, local communities, classmates, interest groups and the [left-liberal] daily Politiken would campaign for example for young students to be able to stay in Denmark, even though the need for our protection has ceased.”

The letter begins with the words: “Dear Syrian refugees, now it’s time to go home again”. With particular emphasis, Støjberg points to an unwritten agreement that Denmark had made with the Syrian migrants at the time: “The agreement was that we would give you protection as long as the war continued but that you would, of course, travel home again on the day you were able to”.

Støjberg also criticises the refugees, who unfortunately have not always respected the agreement with Denmark: “When you came to Denmark, we told you clearly that we expected you to adapt to the Danish rules and to take care of yourselves while you were here. Too few of you have lived up to that.” The Syrians are now under a double obligation to return, she added: On the one hand, they would have to honour the agreement with their host country and leave “without objections and without questions, but in gratitude to the Danish people”. On the other hand, they had to “begin the reconstruction of their own country”. After all, Denmark had given them a good advantage for this new start through free education.

Even a degree should not hinder the return journey to the homeland. After all, even without a degree, you don’t forget everything you’ve learned. And of course life in Denmark – Støjberg understands this very well – is more comfortable than in Damascus, especially since the Danes are such a generous people. “But Denmark is not your fatherland.” The Danish asylum system, he says, is finely balanced and “very tough”, both in accepting an asylum application and in terminating a residence permit. 140,000 Syrians have already returned home, she added. While on the way, the new departures, the politician concludes, could send the Danes “a big thank you for the help you received when you needed it. The Danes really deserve it.

Almost naturally, Støjberg’s letter evoked anew the “intense debate” (Berlingske) that she herself described. According to the daily Jyllandsposten, Støjberg’s open letter quickly ” went viral” online and led to heated debates: “Inger Støjberg’s open letter was shared more than 1,700 times and commented on nearly 3,000 times in just a few hours.” However, comments from politicians and others were both approving and disapproving.

Støjberg wrote her letter in the midst of a turbulence in which she herself is currently involved. In a way, she is also putting her own political work up for debate. The “former Venstre icon” (according to the Schleswig-Holstein website shz.de) was until recently deputy chairperson of the right-wing liberal party.

A lot has happened since then. Shortly before New Year’s Eve, Støjberg was sharply criticised by the new Venstre leadership, among other things for a measure from 2016, when she ordered the separate accommodation of asylum-seeking couples if one of the spouses – usually the woman – was a minor. This affected the issue of sham and forced marriages, but Støjberg allegedly violated the European Convention on Human Rights by doing so.

In the meantime, Støjberg has left Venstre and is a non-party member. Her successor presented herself as an ideological opponent. In September, Støjberg is to appear before an extraordinarily sitting Reichsgericht court – there hasn’t been one for 25 years, and Støjberg would like the trial to be broadcast live on television. But a majority in parliament begrudges her this stage or fears to look bad on it themselves. To this day, the ex-minister is not shy of publicity and at least wants the judges’ votes to be published.

Meanwhile, Støjberg’s successor as Minister for Foreigners, Mattias Tesfaye, has stated that minors would also have to be taken to asylum centres outside the country if the legal rules require it. Exemptions for minors would endanger the lives of minors, Tesfaye says: “If we exempted all unaccompanied minors from the rules, I would fear that speculation would continue about sending minors to Denmark via the Mediterranean.” He is countering criticism from NGOs such as “Red Barnet”, Amnesty International and the Danish “Institute for Human Rights”.

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