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Welcome to Denmark. Now Give Us All Your Stuff.
Danish lawmakers passed a controversial measure that will allow police to seize refugees' belongings. But is that a violation of their rights?
Last September, Denmark paid Lebanese newspapers to run advertisements highlighting the country’s new restrictions on migrants and refugees, including limited social benefits, bans on entries for family members, and stringent language requirements.
But in case it wasn’t already obvious just how unwelcome asylum-seekers are in Copenhagen, the Danish Parliament passed a new measure Tuesday that will require refugees to hand over their valuables once they arrive in country; the government will hold onto anything valued at more than around $1,500 that it deems “nonessential.”
In a phone call with Foreign Policy Tuesday, International Organization for Migration spokesman Leonard Doyle said that Tuesday’s law wrongly “pushes the notion that migrants have got rubies and jewels stitched into their coats.”
Danish authorities said they needed the new law in order to balance their budget — it reportedly costs roughly $30,000 per year to house a refugee — but the move comes amid increased European skepticism toward asylum-seekers. That distrust worsened after reports that hundreds of Arab and North African migrants sexually assaulted women in Cologne, Germany, on New Year’s Eve. And Danish Integration Minister Inger Stojberg — who doesn’t seem too interested in integrating refugees into Denmark — has said publicly that the government wants to make the country less attractive for asylum-seekers.
Still, opponents of the law have likened it to the way Nazis treated Jews during World War II, and the United Nations has warned that the law appears to violate refugees’ rights. Switzerland has also faced criticism for implementing comparable policies.
The Danish government, on the other hand, claims that this puts refugees on the same level as unemployed Danes who seek social benefits. “We’re simply applying the same rules we apply to Danish citizens who wish to take money from the Danish government,” government spokesman Marcus Knuth told the Guardian.
The only difference? The average unemployed Dane didn’t flee civil war in Syria or risk his or her life crossing the Mediterranean or Balkans to reach mainland Europe.
“These are the people who are the victims of who we say we’re opposed to,” Doyle said, referencing to the Islamic State and others who have carried out atrocities in the places refugees are fleeing. “Let’s show a bit of generosity toward them.”
Doyle acknowledged that European governments need a better way of handling the financial costs of accepting refugees. But he also pointed out that migrants ultimately help boost economies and it is not “common sense” for the Danish government to expect all refugees to give up their valuables rather than addressing each case on a sliding scale, setting up a loan repayment system, or taxing those who start to make income.
“The idea, ‘We’re going to search you and strip you of your cash,’ really sends a bad signal,” he said. “But that’s partly what they want to do, is send a bad signal.”
Photo credit: Sean Gallup/Getty Images