Denmark approves plan to seize valuables from refugees

BY    | Updated: Jan 27, 2016 at 3:28 PM
A large group of migrants, mainly from Syria, walk on a highway in Denmark. Denmark voted in favor of a new law Tuesday that allowed the government to seize assets from asylum seekers to cover their expenses. Photo by Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix/Reuters

A large group of migrants, mainly from Syria, walk on a highway in Denmark. Denmark voted in favor of a new law Tuesday that allowed the government to seize assets from asylum seekers to cover their expenses. Photo by Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix/Reuters

The Danish Parliament voted Tuesday to let immigration authorities seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner — about $1,453 — from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases are being approved.

After debating for more than three hours, the bill was adopted in a 81-27 vote with support from the Social Democrats, a left-leaning opposition party, and the anti-immigrant Danish People’s Party. One lawmaker abstained from voting and 70 others were absent.

Items of “sentimental value,” such as wedding rings, are exceptions to what refugees are required to hand over to the government, “unless they have considerable value.” Mia Tang, press spokesperson for Denmark’s’ Ministry of Immigration, Integration, and Housing told Vox in an email in December.

Authorities, however, can confiscate valuable items like watches, mobile phones and computers. The law applies to refugees entering Denmark and those who are already there.

The Danish ruling party first announced the idea in December. The initial draft of the law included a lower threshold — around $436 — and didn’t include any exceptions to confiscated items.

Supporters of the bill argued Denmark needed to address the influx of refugees. Denmark accepted 15,000 asylum-seekers in 2015, BBC reported. The country expects to accept another 20,000 this year.

“To those saying what we are doing is wrong, my question is: What is your alternative?” Social Democrat Dan Jorgensen said during the parliamentary debate. “The alternative is that we continue to be [one of] the most attractive countries in Europe to come to, and then we end up like Sweden,” he said.


The United Nations criticized the move.

Spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, said people who move to Europe “should be treated with compassion and respect.”

Denmark has become the latest European state to have refugees hand over their personal valuables in order to pay for their stay, The Guardian reported. Germany’s southern states have similar seizure laws and Switzerland requires refugees to hand over assets larger than 1,000 francs, or $996.

Danish lawmakers passed a raft of measures Tuesday meant to tighten existing asylum laws. One such measure extended the waiting period from one to three years for refugees to apply for family members to join them. Other laws, passed last year, included shortening temporary residence permits and stepping up efforts to deport those whose applications were rejected.

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