Denmark set to seize refugees' valuables after parliamentary approval

A controversial Danish plan to seize assets from asylum seekers so they can contribute to their own upkeep was approved in the country's legislature Tuesday, despite criticism from human rights groups and the opposition.

It was part of a broader bill tightening asylum laws.

The right-leaning Liberals' minority government had secured backing from others, including the main opposition Social Democrats and the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party.

The third and final reading of the bill was passed by a 81 to 27 vote, with one abstention. Seventy legislators were absent.

In the run-up to the vote, much attention centred on provisions that would allow 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.

During the debate, Martin Henriksen of the Danish People’s Party said the bill was “a right step for our country,” but added that there was need for “more border controls and further tightening of asylum and refugee policies.”

Prior to the vote, Jakob Ellemann-Jensen, immigration affairs spokesman for the Liberals, fielded questions from critical lawmakers.

He “doubted that Denmark risked repercussions, even though some of the measures were on the margins of international conventions.” For instance, he referenced the extension of family reunions from one to three years.

Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg told legislators after the three-hour debate that she welcomed the engagement generated by the bill, which comprised more than a dozen measures.

"We would never have presented the bill if we weren't convinced it was in line with conventions," she added.

Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of the left-leaning opposition Unity List earlier said there was “no reason to celebrate” the approval of the bill.

"It sends a message to the world that refugees are not welcome in Denmark," she said.

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmusen – who did not take part in the debate - said he did not see a need at present for "further restrictions."

“Now we shall implement these measures that aim to ensure that Denmark is less attractive [for migrants],” Rasmussen said, according to news agency Ritzau.

Critics of the restrictive measures include the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, the UN refugee agency UNHCR and rights groups like Amnesty International.

"People who have suffered tremendously, who escaped war and conflict ... should be treated with compassion and respect and within their full rights as refugees," said Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on Tuesday.

On Monday, Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen and Stojberg defended the measures during a debate in the European Parliament, saying they were compatible with international rules and in line with Denmark's welfare system.

Exempt are valuables with "sentimental value," such as wedding and engagement rings.

Ellemann-Jensen repeated during Tuesday's debate that “no jewellery” would be seized.

Syrian-born Nasser Kahder of the Conservatives, whose party backed the bill, said it was necessary to "limit the number of people coming to Denmark" but rejected that this should be seen as the country was against foreigners.

He defended the measures, saying “if you have wealth, it should be used before tax money."

Provisions to delay family reunification have drawn criticism, as have tougher criteria to obtain a permanent residence permit.

Recently it emerged that Switzerland has applied a similar confiscation policy for years. Asylum seekers in the Alpine nation have to hand over all assets above a value of 1,000 Swiss francs (993 dollars) when they enter the country, to help finance their stay.

Denmark last year cut benefits for new asylum seekers as part of its measures to reduce immigration. In August, Copenhagen also paid for advertisements in Lebanese papers detailing the cuts.

Stojberg said Monday that Denmark expects a further 25,000 asylum seekers this year.

Last update: Wed, 27/01/2016 - 14:52
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