20th Mar 2018

Danish plan to seize refugees' jewellery prompts controversy

  • Asylum seekers in Sweden: scenes the Danish government would like to avoid (Photo: atranswe)

Denmark’s minority government has come under fire for plans to seize migrants' valuables to cover the costs of their stay in the country and to dissuade others from coming.

An online petition against the initiative entitled "No to the confiscation of migrants' valuables" had garnered almost 15,000 signatures by Tuesday (22 December).

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The proposed measure was likened to the Nazi’s treatment of Jews in the second world war and has prompted an MEP to quit the ruling party.

The government’s proposal, part of a bigger asylum package presented to the parliament on 10 December, states that normally watches and mobile phones should not be seized, but cash above 3,000 Danish kroner (€436) and jewels can be confiscated.

The proposed bill allows police to search the clothes and luggage of asylum seekers - and other migrants without a permit to stay in Denmark - with a view to finding assets.

If a migrant choses to withdraw the application for asylum, the valuables should be returned. If the asylum seeker becomes well-to-do after international protection was granted, the new valuables can also be seized.

Valuables with “certain personal, sentimental value to a foreigner will not, as a main rule, be seized,” the proposal notes.

However, they may be taken away if, taking into account the degree of personal, sentimental value and the economic value of the assets, “it is deemed inappropriate not to seize the assets.”

Most asylum seekers sell everything back home to make the dangerous journey to Europe, but are often viewed in Europe with suspicion for having smart phones.

Meanwhile, Danish police have themselves rejected the government idea.

“I can't imagine that we would go in and take away, for example wedding rings from refugees who come to the country,” the chairman of the Police Federation, Claus Oxfeldt told Denmarks Radio.

He said it is not the job of police officers to assess the value of, for example refugees’ clothing or jewellery.

“We are not able to assess whether a ring has a value of 1,000, 5,000 or 10,000 [Danish] kroner,” said Claus Oxfeldt.

However, the Danish minister for integration said the principle of the proposal also applies to Danes.

“There is no reason to criticise, since it is already the case that if you as a Dane have valuables for more than 10,000 kroner (€1,340) it may be required that this is sold before you can receive benefits,” Inger Stojberg was quoted as saying by AFP.

The planned measure is supported by the populist, anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DPP), which backs the centre-right minority government, and which says the move is aimed at stopping people from coming to Denmark.

"The signal is important. Basically we are saying that if you want to come to Europe you should stay clear of Denmark because we have a lot of problems with migrants and ... we don't need any more in Denmark," Martin Henriksen of the Danish People's Party (DPP) told AFP.

The bill will be voted on in January in the 179-seat parliament, and would come into force in February.

A Danish MEP already left the ruling party in protest.

"Denmark is currently experiencing a norm and value shift that I find deeply worrying," Jens Rohde of the Venstre party wrote on the website of daily Politiken. He is joining the centrist Danish Social Liberal Party.

The proposal is the latest attempt by Copenhagen to avoid the kind of refugee influx seen in neighbouring Sweden, where 150,000 people applied for asylum this year.

Other measures include shortening residence permits, delaying family reunifications, and placing ads in Lebanese newspapers to deter migrants.

Denmark expects to receive around 20,000 asylum seekers this year, compared to 15,000 last year. In total 5.039 persons applied for asylum in November 2015, the highest number in any month of the year, official figures released on Monday showed.

Earlier this month, Danes voted in a referendum to reject a government proposal on adopting the EU's justice rules.

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