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Danish Law Requires Asylum Seekers to Hand Over Valuables
Denmark passed a law on Tuesday requiring newly arrived asylum seekers to hand over valuables, including jewelry and gold, to help pay for their stay in the country. The move underscored an anti-immigration backlash that has prompted several European countries to seek ways to discourage migrants from entering.
Under the law, which passed by a sizable majority after several hours of debate, refugees who enter Denmark with assets of more than 10,000 kroner, about $1,450, would have to contribute toward the costs of their lodging. After a global outcry over the law, however, goods with sentimental value like wedding rings and family portraits are exempt from seizure.
The bill also stipulates that asylum seekers must wait three years before they can apply to bring their families to Denmark, a provision that some advocates for refugees have criticized as inhumane.
As Europe confronts its greatest movement of refugees since World War II, even formerly open countries like Denmark are erecting barriers amid concerns that the newcomers could strain welfare systems, threaten security and undermine the nations' quality of life.
Mirroring debates elsewhere in Europe, the debate in Denmark has been deeply influenced by a far-right populist party, the Danish People's Party, which has been appealing to voters by warning against the perils of too much immigration.
Denmark's prime minister has warned that the 1951 United Nations treaty governing the rights of refugees might need updating. After Sweden imposed identity checks for travelers coming from Denmark, Denmark did the same along its border with Germany. Hungary had already built a razor-wire fence along its border with Croatia.
Opponents of the Danish measure say it will be divisive, harm the country's reputation for tolerance and generosity, and potentially fan xenophobia.
"You are contributing to the separation that war creates," Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, a member of Parliament from the Red-Green Alliance, a leftist party, was quoted as saying by Politiken, a leading Danish newspaper. The United Nations refugee agency has criticized the measure, saying it would undermine refugees' dignity and set a bad example.
The bill's proponents said the government was merely asking refugees to abide by the same requirements that Danish citizens face, namely that they use their own resources before being eligible for welfare benefits. They also pointed to precedents in Europe. Asylum seekers in Switzerland, for example, must declare their assets upon arrival and hand over those exceeding 1,000 Swiss francs, about $981, Reuters has reported, citing the Swiss broadcaster SRF.
German law requires asylum applicants to contribute to their living costs to the extent possible. This has been the case since 1993 and, while all of the country's 16 states allow asylum seekers to keep 200 euros ($217), each enforces the law differently.
While most states ask applicants to declare their cash and valuables when they submit their written application for asylum, only Bavaria has said that the police are allowed to search new arrivals for valuables. The state allows migrants to keep up to 750, about $813. It is not clear how much money has been taken from asylum seekers.
According to Dutch news reports, the government over the past four years has collected about $759,000 from asylum seekers to help pay for their lodging. The income has mostly come from working refugees, according to the website Dutch News. The policy has been in place since 2008, the report said.
In Denmark, Per Bang Thomsen, a journalist at DR, the Danish broadcaster, said the debate over the bill — and the criticism accompanying it — had unsettled Danes' perception of themselves. "We see ourselves as a fair and open fairy-tale nation, and we treasure that image," he said.
Nonetheless, Mr. Thomsen said, there is widespread support for the measure. "Danes don't see themselves as racists," he said. "They're just skeptical of immigration and afraid of what will happen with the thousands of refugees that are coming to Denmark."
Last week, pork became the latest weapon in the culture wars in Denmark, spurred by anxiety over refugees, when a Danish town voted to require public day care centers and kindergartens to include pork on their lunch menus.
Supporters of the proposal in the central town of Randers, including members the Danish People's Party, said it was necessary to serve traditional Danish food such as pork to conserve the national identity. But critics of the proposal, including human rights advocates, said the law was intended to stigmatize Muslims.
[Source: By Dan Bilefsky, The New York Times, London, 26Jan16]
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|This document has been published on 28Jan16 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.|