Danish lawmakers passed legislation Tuesday that allows authorities to confiscate cash and valuables from asylum seekers to defray costs, a move that deepens the divide in Europe over how to handle the ongoing migrant crisis.
Proponents of the new policy say it brings migrants in line with jobless Danes, who must sell assets above a certain level to claim benefits, and ensures that they contribute to Denmark’s generous welfare state. The so-called “jewelry bill” allows government officials to seize valuables worth more than 10,000 Danish kroner (about $1,453).
Yet the law’s critics – and many of its most hard-line supporters – say it has more to do with deterring asylum seekers from entering the country. Denmark received about 20,000 asylum seekers last year while neighboring Germany got 1.1 million and Sweden 163,000.
"We hope this will start a chain reaction through Europe where other European countries can see there's the need to tighten the rules on immigration in order to keep European culture," Martin Henriksen, spokesman for the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, told CNN.
The law has sparked widespread outrage among human rights activists and condemnation from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the European Commission. Though the Danish government claims the law is valid under its legal "opt-out" from EU immigration policies, UNHCR says the new law violates basic international human rights protections.
The law passed in Parliament by 81 votes to 27, with one abstention, after Denmark’s largest and second largest parties endorsed it. According to CNN:
Items of "special sentimental value" such as "wedding rings, engagement rings, family portraits, decorations and medals" are exempted, according to the Danish Ministry of Immigration, Integration and Housing. But "watches, mobile phones and computers" can be confiscated, it says.
The BBC points out that while the seizing of assets has dominated headlines, human rights groups and legal experts have raised more concerns over measures within the law that make it harder to obtain family reunions and residency permits.
The new law extends the period that migrants will have to wait before applying for relatives to join them from one year to three. It also shortens temporary residence permits and makes it harder to obtain a permanent permit.
The Danish law is just the latest curb on migration in Europe amid the largest flow of refugees since World War II.
In Germany, the state of Bavaria threatened the federal government Tuesday with a lawsuit if it doesn't take measures to secure the German border against asylum seekers, reports the Associated Press.
Meanwhile, Poland announced it will veto any EU plan that would oblige member states to accept quotas of migrants.
Denmark is not the only country targeting refugee possessions, reports Reuters. Switzerland has had a law enabling the authorities to confiscate assets belonging to asylum seekers over a certain amount – currently about $1,000 – for two decades. The German state of Baden-Württemberg secures valuables above 350 euros ($380) and Bavarian officials have reportedly said assets worth more than 750 euros ($815) can legally be seized.