by Compiled from Wire Services
Jan 26, 2016 12:00 am
The Danish parliament on Tuesday passed a package of measures to deter refugees from seeking asylum, including confiscating valuables to pay for their stay, despite protests from international human rights organisations.
The measures were passed by an overwhelming majority with the main centre-left opposition Social Democrats voting in favour as Denmark's political landscape shifts to the right thanks to the popularity of anti-immigrant Danish People's Party.
The Liberals Party government has just 34 out of 179 seats in parliament and depends on support of rightist parties, including the anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DF), to pass laws.
During a three and a half hour debate, dissenting voices from small leftwing parties were heard including from Red Green Alliance.
But the bill passed with an overwhelming majority, backed by the main centre-left opposition party Social Democrats, highlighting a shift to the right in Denmark's political landscape thanks to DF's popularity and rising concern over refugee numbers.
"I wouldn't say that I have become racist or anything," said Poul Madsen, a taxi driver, before the bill was passed. "But I may be more aware of the fact that this has some downsides and may be a potential problem for our society and our economy."
The bill will take effect in February.
Under the law, dubbed the "jewelry law" by Danish media, authorities can seize assets of refugees to pay for their food and lodging.
Asylum seekers are required to tell the Danish authorities to what extent they are bringing assets with them to the country.
Danish police will also be allowed to search and inspect the asylum seekers' bags. However, possessions of personal value such as engagement rings are exempt from being confiscated, the Danish ministers said.
Asylum seekers will also be allowed to hold on to possessions worth no more than 10,000 Danish krone ($1,450).
"Objects with higher value will be taken to cover up for the costs," Stojberg said, calling 10,000 krone a "fair limit".
The move has been criticized as inciting xenophobia and even compared to Nazis confiscating belongings from the Jews during the Holocaust.
But Danish authorities have refuted the comparison, saying similar rules apply for Danish citizens.
The law will also require asylum seekers who arrive without their relatives to wait for at least three years before they can be united with their family members.
NORDIC WELCOME FADES
Denmark is not the only one Nordxic country trying to shut its doors to migrants. Sweden, which took in over 160,000 refugees last year, the most per capita in Europe, introduced checks on its border to Denmark at the start of the year.
Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven promised on Monday more resources for police after an employee was stabbed to death at a refugee centre for unaccompanied minors. A minor was arrested on suspicion of murder or manslaughter after the incident in western Sweden, local TT news agency reported.
A poll on Monday showed support for Lofven's Social Democrats at its lowest for nearly 50 years, in part due to a sense the government was unable to cope with the refugee influx.
Norway, meanwhile, has been trying to send back refugees who crossed over from Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday Moscow would not take them back.
Denmark is also not alone in targeting migrants' valuables. Switzerland has started taking valuables from asylum seekers over 1,000 Swiss francs ($985), the German state of Baden-Württemberg valuables above 350 euros ($380), while other southern states have been reported to do the same.
"Most (refugees) have lost everything and yet this legislation appears to say that the few fortunate enough to have survived the trip to Denmark with their few remaining possessions haven't lost enough," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said, mirroring criticism from many organisations.