Denmark has revoked the residency permits of Syrian refugees, becoming the first European nation to do so.
At least 189 Syrians have had applications for renewal of their temporary residency status denied since last summer.
The Danish government says the security situation in Syrian has “improved significantly” and urged the refugees to return to the war-torn country.
About 500 people originally from Damascus and surrounding areas were being re-evaluated.
The issue has attracted widespread attention after 19-year-old Aya Abu-Daher, from Nyborg, pleaded her family’s case on television earlier this month, moving viewers as she asked what she had “done wrong”.
Charlotte Slente, secretary general of the Danish Refugee Council, said that Denmark’s new rules for Syrians amount to “undignified treatment”.
“The Danish Refugee Council disagrees with the decision to deem the Damascus area or any area in Syria safe for refugees to return to – the absence of fighting in some areas does not mean that people can safely go back. Neither the UN nor other countries deem Damascus as safe.”
After 10 years of war, Bashar al-Assad is back in control of most of Syria, and frontline fighting is limited to the north of the country. However, one of the main reasons people rose up during the Arab spring remains: his secret police.
Regime intelligence branches have detained, tortured and “disappeared” more than 100,000 people since the war broke out in 2011. Arbitrary detentions are widespread in formerly rebel-held areas that have signed reconciliation agreements with Damascus, according to Human Rights Watch.
Danish authorities have so far dismissed growing international criticism of the new policies from the UN and rights groups.
The immigration minister, Mattias Tesfaye, told Agence France-Presse: “The government’s policy is working and I won’t back down, it won’t happen. We have made it clear to the Syrian refugees that their residence permit is temporary and that the permit can be revoked if the need for protection ceases to exist.”