Denmark passes bill to snatch cash from refugees

Denmark passes bill to snatch cash from refugees
3 min read
27 January, 2016
Danish parliament passed a bill on Tuesday allowing authorities to seize valuables from refugees to fund their stay in the country despite international uproar.
The bill has received widespread condemnation [Getty]

Denmark's parliament passed a bill that allows authorities to seize valuables from refugees, under legislation that has sparked widespread condemnation.

Tuesday bill was presented by the right-wing minority government of Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen and came after four hours of heated debate in parliament, but approved by 81 of the 109 lawmakers.

It was expected, as the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, backed the measures along with two small rightwing parties, but the new rules have been highly controversial.

Refugees and asylum seekers will now have to hand over cash exceeding 10,000 kroner (1,340 euros, $1,450) and any individual items valued at more than that amount, up from the initial 3,000 kroner proposed.

Wedding rings and other items of sentimental value were exempt in the bill after thorny negotiations between political parties in parliament.

Copenhagen insists the law is needed to stem the flow of refugees even though Denmark and Sweden recently tightened their borders - a move that prompted Germany and Austria to turn back new arrivals heading for Scandinavia.

When the Danish government initially proposed the bill, many likened the plans to the confiscation of gold and other valuables from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

The bill also includes measures to delay family reunification for refugees, which rights groups have described as a breach of international conventions.

The Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen defended the bill as "the most misunderstood bill in Denmark's history", while Social Democrat MP Dan Jorgensen said there was no alternative to the bill in the country's efforts to discourage asylum seekers.

John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia director at Amnesty International, said the law was "plain wrong" and "a sad reflection of how far Denmark has strayed" from its historic support of international norms in the Refugee Convention.

"European states must stop this dismal race to the bottom and begin to meet their international obligations, by upholding refugees' human rights and dignity," said Dalhuisen. "Anything less is a betrayal of our common humanity."

Switzerland has had a similar law in place since the 1990s, which allows authorities to confiscate any amount over 1,000 Swiss francs ($1,000) from asylum seekers.

Criticism had mounted ahead of Tuesday's vote, with the UN refugee agency UNHCR and the Council of Europe questioning the bill's compatibility with international conventions.

But Rasmussen, whose party won a June election after promising an "immediate slowdown" of Denmark's refugee influx, was unfazed, arguing in turn that the UN Refugee Convention may need to be changed if refugees keep pouring into Europe.

The bill is due to be signed into law by Denmark's Queen Margrethe within a few days.

Agencies contributed to this report.