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Danish parliament adopts controversial asylum seeker reforms to seize valuables, delay family reunifications
Asylum seekers arriving in Denmark will have cash and valuables worth more than $2,000 taken from them at the border under controversial new laws adopted by the country's parliament overnight.
The reforms, aimed at dissuading refugees and migrants from seeking asylum, also include provisions to delay family reunifications by up to three years, and have been likened by some to the Nazi-era policy of taking gold and other valuables from Jews.
The government insists the change is needed to stem the flow of asylum seekers, even though Denmark and Sweden recently tightened their borders, a move that prompted Germany and Austria to turn back new arrivals heading for Scandinavia.
But the United Nations Refugee Agency has hit out at the move, with spokesman William Spindler saying: "It's wrong to take away from people who have already lost so much and suffered so much the few belongings that they have managed to rescue, and also to discriminate against them by not allowing them to be reunited with their families".
The bill, presented by the right-wing minority government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, was approved by a huge majority of 81 of the 109 MPs present, as members of the opposition Social Democrats backed the measures.
Asylum seekers will now have to hand over cash exceeding 10,000 kroner ($2,000) and any individual items valued at more than that amount, up from the initial 3,000 kroner ($600) proposed.
After negotiations with the other parties, Integration Minister Inger Stojberg agreed to make wedding rings and other items of sentimental value exempt.
The new laws passed with cross-party support, with Mr Rasmussen defending them as "the most misunderstood bill in Denmark's history."
"There's no simple answer for a single country, but until the world comes together on a joint solution [to the migrant crisis], Denmark needs to act," MP Jakob Ellemann-Jensen of Rasmussen's Venstre party said during the debate.
No alternative or cruel move?
Mr Rasmussen has shrugged off the criticism, seemingly more concerned with opinion polls showing that 70 per cent of Danes rank immigration as their top political concern.
Social Democrat Dan Jorgensen addressed opponents of the bill, demanding: "To those saying what we are doing is wrong, my question is: What is your alternative?
"The alternative is that we continue to be [one of] the most attractive countries in Europe to come to, and then we end up like Sweden."
Copenhagen has often referred to neighbouring Sweden as a bad example, where 163,000 asylum applications were submitted last year — five times more than in Denmark relative to their population size.
The government has defended the move by arguing that Danes who want to qualify for social benefits may also have to sell their valuables.
However, they are not subjected to the kind of searches proposed in the new asylum law.
Once a champion of refugee rights, the Scandinavian country's goal is now to become "significantly less attractive for asylum-seekers", Ms Stojberg said.
Kashif Ahmad, the leader of the National Party, which hopes to enter parliament by targeting the immigrant vote, said: "The tone in the public debate about refugees and immigrants has undoubtedly become tougher."
Amnesty International has called the three-year waiting period for family reunifications "cruel", saying it could "have a devastating impact on families".
But Marcus Knuth, Venstre's spokesman on integration issues, said the criticism was unfair.
"Denmark continues to be one of the most welcoming and caring places that you can seek asylum in. So the criticism that all of a sudden we were doing something wrong we find highly, highly unfair," he said.
"We simply wish to be put more at par with other European countries so that we are not one of the countries that receive by far the most asylum seekers."
[Source: ABC, Afp, Sydney, Aus, 27Jan16]
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