migranti grčka.jpg
Photograph: EPA/SIMELA PANTZARTZI

Plans by Denmark to seize assets from asylum seekers to pay for their stay and other restrictive measures could violate fundamental rights, a senior Council of Europe official warned Friday.

“Recent restrictive changes to asylum and immigration law in Denmark raise serious concerns of conformity with human rights standards," said Nils Muiznieks, the human rights commissioner of the 47-member organization.

In a letter to the Danish minister for immigration and integration, Inge Stojberg, he raised concerns including the proposal to seize cash sums exceeding 10,000 kroner (1,450 dollars) or valuables worth that amount or more, such as watches or mobile phones.

This could violate the right to property as stated in the European Convention on Human Rights, he said. The letter to Stojberg sent earlier this week was made public on Friday.

He also criticized Denmark's prolonging the period for family reunification from one to three years, as well as its "tightening criteria to obtain a permanent residence permit."

"All these proposals run counter to the aim of promoting a speedy and effective integration of these persons in Denmark," he said.

A similar confiscation policy has been in effect in Switzerland for years.

Asylum seekers have to hand over all assets above 1,000 Swiss francs (993 dollars) when they enter the country to help finance their stay.

If they find work, Switzerland deducts 10 per cent of their pay for up to 10 years, up to a total of 15,000 francs, a spokeswoman of the secretariat for migration said Friday, confirming a Swiss television report.

Those who voluntarily leave Switzerland within seven months get their money back.

The Danish bill is set to pass at the end of January 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.

”Denmark has been criticized in the past for things other European countries have done for a long period,” said Marcus Knuth, the Liberals' parliamentary spokesman on integration and immigration.

"It shows that Europe as a whole is in a tight situation and that the solutions that Denmark has offered are not unique,” he said, insisting that the bill will not be revised.

Stojberg however responded to criticism Tuesday by saying that wedding rings or items of strong personal value would be exempt.

She had no comment Friday on the commissioner's letter, a spokeswoman said.

The Danish government has stated it intends to reduce immigration, and last year pushed through cuts in benefits for new asylum seekers to make Denmark less attractive.

This week, Denmark extended temporary controls along the country's border with Germany until February 3, citing fears that illegal immigrants will "accumulate" in the country because of similar measures by Sweden.

Meanwhile, neighbouring Norway extended tighter border checks for arrivals from Denmark, Germany and Sweden until February 14.  

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