Denmark faces down EU criticism on seizure of refugee valuables

A law that would allow assets to be seized from asylum seekers entering Denmark is fair and compatible with international rules, Danish officials argued Monday, one day before the country's parliament is expected to approve the measure.

The Council of Europe, a human rights watchdog, has expressed concerns that the law could violate fundamental property rights. Some critics have also made comparisons to Nazi Germany, which confiscated the goods of Jews during World War II.

But Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen and Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg argued on Monday during a debate at the European Parliament that the proposed law is fair, in line with the Danish welfare model and compatible with international rules.

It allows for asylum seekers' belongings to be searched and for cash or valuables exceeding 10,000 kroner (1,450 dollars) to be seized. The cash and proceeds from the sale of the valuables - such as watches and mobile phones - would be used to pay for the asylum seekers' stay in Denmark.

Valuables that have "sentimental value," such as wedding and engagement rings, would be off-limits.

"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 Danish bill is set to pass Tuesday as the minority government of right-leaning Liberals has secured backing from others, including the main opposition Social Democrats and the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party.

But Jensen and Stojberg faced pushback on Monday from liberal and left-wing EU parliamentarians, who also took aim at a new provision in the 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," far-left German lawmaker Cornelia Ernst said. "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?"

"You will never, ever convince me that this is either responsible or proportionate," liberal Swedish lawmaker Cecilia Wikstrom added. "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?"

But Jensen argued that Denmark is doing its share, for instance by providing significant funding for humanitarian aid.

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

Last update: Mon, 25/01/2016 - 23:42
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