Danish MPs approve seizing valuables from refugees

Package of measures to deter asylum seekers passed, including confiscation of cash and valuables exceeding $1,450.

Critics compared Denmark's proposal to seize refugees' assets to Nazi Germany during World War II [Per Rasmussen/AP]

The Danish parliament has passed a package of measures to deter refugees from seeking asylum, including confiscating valuables to pay for their stay, despite protests from international human rights organisations.

The measures, which include extending the reunification time period after which family members outside can rejoin refugees in the country from one year to three years, were passed by an overwhelming majority on Tuesday.

The bill, which allows the confiscation of refugees’ cash exceeding 10,000 kroner ($1,450), has prompted comparisons to Nazi Germany, which confiscated the goods of Jews during World War II.

The Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, said the law could violate fundamental property rights.

READ MORE: Denmark’s controversial immigration bill

However, Kristian Jensen, the Danish foreign minister, and Inger Stojberg, the immigration minister, argued on Monday, during a debate at the European Parliament, that the proposed law is fair and in line with the Danish welfare model and compatible with international rules.

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“We … think that it is fair and reasonable that those asylum seekers who do bring enough assets with them should cover the costs of their food and lodging during the asylum process,” Stojberg said.

“When you have such a broad, universal welfare system as the Danish one, this is also based on this basic principle that if you can support yourself you have to do so,” she added.

The law will also allow for asylum seekers’ belongings to be searched.

Cash and proceeds from the sale of valuables belonging to refugees will be used to pay for their stay in Denmark.

Valuables that have “sentimental value”, such as wedding and engagement rings, will be off-limits, however.

While many have focused on the confiscation of valuables, critics suggest that it is the part of the bill relating to reunification of families that is most alarming.

The new law will mean that refugees will have to wait three years after being granted asylum before they can apply to be reunited with their family. The current law permits them to do this after one year.

Jonas Christoffersen, the director of the the Danish Institute for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera that the “right of refugees to be reunited with their family is protected by numerous international conventions ratified by Denmark. We believe the government is overstepping international law by implementing this bill.”

The bill was passed as the minority government of right-leaning Liberals had secured backing from others, including the main opposition Social Democrats and the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party.

‘Wrong direction’

Liberal and left-wing European Union parliamentarians criticised the proposed bill and took aim at a new provision in Danish law that would delay family reunification for up to three years for people in need of temporary protection.

“This law … goes completely in the wrong direction,” Cornelia Ernst, a far-left German politician, said on Monday.

READ MORE: Denmark urged to reject ‘cruel’ refugee laws

“Refugees completely liquidate their households – if they even still had one – and take their last money and valuables with them, which you now confiscate. How can you ensure there is proportionality here?”

Cecilia Wikstrom, a Liberal Swedish politician, said: “You will never, ever convince me that this is either responsible or proportionate.

“It does not matter how serious the situation or how strong the pressure [is], we are the richest region on the planet. And if we are not taking responsibility, tell me who should do it then?”

In response, Jensen argued that his country was doing its share by providing significant funding for humanitarian aid.

The northern European country has one of Europe’s highest numbers of asylum seekers per capita and expects a further 25,000 to arrive this year, Stojberg said.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies