When they decided to flee Syria, leaving their home, livelihoods and belongings behind, Maen and Reem, a Syrian married couple, had one thing on their minds; ensuring the safety of their three children.
Life in Denmark is everything and nothing like the couple had imagined it would be.
“We feel safe, we have food, water, good jobs and a roof over our heads. But we do not feel like we live a dignified life”, said Maen, summing up the reality of living under temporary protection in Denmark, as the Government of Denmark has become the first European country to designate Damascus safe for refugees to return to and strip them of their residency permits.
As the Syrian conflict enters its eleventh year, the majority of Syrians are yet to have access to a durable solution to their displacement. More than 6.2 million people are still internally displaced within the country, more than 5.6 million have fled to neighbouring countries and a million have fled to Europe.
When they first arrived, local integration programmes were being implemented throughout Denmark to ensure Syrians felt welcomed in their new communities.
“When we first arrived in Denmark, we were given a house, our basic needs and Danish classes to help us learn the language”, said Reem.
However, the narrative soon changed.
Previously a lawyer in Syria, Maen works with one of Denmark’s biggest shipping companies and Reem is studying to become a teacher.
“We are proving that we are trying to better integrate within our local community. We work, we speak the language and we pay our taxes”, said Reem.
Reem is not the only one getting an education in the family, the couple’s three children also go to schools in the country.
“The quality of education my children are getting would have only been a dream back in Syria”, said Reem.
“My youngest is excited to go to school every day. That is a far cry from what school meant for our older sons back in Syria,” added Reem with a small laugh.
Maen and Reem are not only working hard to integrate within their host community, they are also trying to help the Syrian community as well.
“When I first arrived here, I had no one to ask for help. I wanted to volunteer to give people arriving in Denmark the help I never received”, said Maen.
The couple has been volunteering with the Danish Refugee Council (DRC).
Without a sense of stability, the Syrian community in Denmark continues to struggle – something they fled Syria to pursue.
“Not knowing whether you would still be here in a month’s time makes it harder for you to feel motivated”, said Maen.
“We are among the few Syrian families who are able to look past the instability”, he added.
“Returning to Syria is not an option for us”, said Maen.
“Closing the door in refugee’s faces is not the solution. The solution is to give them the chance to contribute to the economy”.
While Syria will forever be Maen and Reem’s ‘first love’, they will continue to build a life for themselves in Denmark, hoping that one day they will be able to feel like they belong there.
“Denmark is a beautiful country with beautiful nature. Being able to explore the country is something we always look forward to”, finished Reem with a smile.