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22nd Jun 2018

Denmark mulls public auction to sell refugee valuables

Denmark may set up a public auction to sell valuables seized by police from refugees, noting there is likely a national market for gold and jewelry.

After describing itself as a champion of human rights, its migration minister Inge Stojberg told EUobserver on Monday (25 January) that "these assets will be sold if they are very valuable and if they don't have any sentimental value."

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  • Syrian asylum seekers to hand over cash or valuables worth more than €1,300 (Photo: Josh Zakary)

Sentimental value is first determined by the asylum seeker although it can be challenged in court, if disputed.

Denmark is set to pass a controversial bill on Tuesday that will require asylum seekers to hand over cash or valuables worth more than €1,300 to help cover government expenses on room and board.

Outstanding issues remain on how to cash in on the valuables but Stojberg said one option may be at a public auction. She noted practical guidelines would be formulated once the bill becomes law.

"If it is gold and it will be gold in some cases, then of course there is a world market price for gold but of course we are going to have to see", she said.

"We'll see how great the market is but I would assume that there will be a market", she added after being asked whether Danes have a penchant for jewelry from Iraq or Syria.

Stojberg noted Denmark, given its generous universal welfare system, is basing the new law on a principle that those who can already support themselves should.

In a debate with MEPs in the civil liberties committee - which degenerated into a shouting match between its chair, Hungarian MEP and European People's Party vice-president Kinga Gal and the Belgian MEP Louis Michel, a liberal and father of Belgian PM Charles Michel - Stojberg noted Denmark was the fifth largest recipient of asylum seekers in the EU per capita in 2014.

Denmark top aid donor

Last year, 21,300 asylum seekers went to Denmark. Of those, only 20 percent were granted protection status. The country projects some 25,000 more people are to arrive in 2016. The small Nordic country, among the world's wealthiest nations, handed out ‎€1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance between 2010 and 2015.

It is also one of a handful of countries to provide more than 0.7 percent of GNI for development.

Despite its impressive track record on aid, Denmark is unable to shake the harsh criticism towards its new bill, which has broad cross-party backing.

Drawn up by liberal party lawmakers, the proposal also includes extending family reunification to three years, potentially leaving relatives in limbo at refugee camps or in cities ravaged by war.

It defended the bill, saying its in line with international conventions regardless of warnings from the United Nations and the human rights watchdog, the Council of Europe.

Kristian Jensen, Denmark's foreign affairs minister, said they would continue to take in refugees but noted some may better off than Danish nationals.

"Danes have to be means tested before they get benefits, so we think the same principle ought to be valid for asylum seekers."

The UN Refugee Agency told Denmark in a letter that the latest plans "could fuel fear, xenophobia, and similar restrictions that would reduce - rather than expand - the asylum space globally".

EU asylum rules don't apply to Denmark

Denmark is exempt from most EU asylum rules.

It only has to adhere to the Dublin regulation, which determines who processes asylum claims, and the Eurodac rules on finger printing asylum seekers.

But it is bound by the 1951 Geneva convention on refugees and by the European convention on human rights. It means seizure is only compatible with international law to the extent that the seizure is both proportionate and necessary.

An EU Commission official told euro-deputies that it has yet to study the bill but was "reassured" by Stojberg and Jensen's statements that it would "fully comply with international law obligations both as regards the seizure of assets and as regards the delay of family reunification are concerned".

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