Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Danish police to seize refugees' belongings

The Danish Parliament has approved a controversial new law that allows police to force refugees to hand over their valuables.

On arrival in Denmark, items and cash worth over £1,000 can now be taken from refugees, including mobile phones, watches and computers.  Items of sentimental value such as wedding rings, decorations and medals will be exempt from confiscation.

The Danish government explained that the new law is to help to cover the cost of food and accommodation for the asylum seekers.  But commentators and some politicians have said that Denmark doesn't really need the money.  

A spokesman for the far-right Danish People's Party, supporters of the new law, said that it was intended as a "signal" to dissuade migrants from coming to Denmark, and not aimed at actually raising money.

Politicians also voted to delay asylum seekers from applying for their families to join them from the current one year to three years.   

"The aim is to make sure that (fewer) people come to Denmark, if it's hard to bring your family," the Danish Peoples Party claimed.

Amnesty International slammed the law, saying in a statement that it reflected a "dismal race to the bottom" by European countries in response to the migrant crisis.

"To prolong the suffering of vulnerable people who have been ripped apart from their families by conflict or persecution is plain wrong," said John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia Director for Amnesty International.

The United Nations called the move “concerning and regrettable.” 

The Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks, said that delaying family reunions might be a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Pernille Skipper, MP for Enhedslisten, a left wing Danish party, said: “Morally it is a horrible way to treat people fleeing mass crimes, war, rapes. They are fleeing from war and how do we treat them? We take their jewellery.”

The leader of Denmark’s opposition Green Party, Uffe Elbaek said, "Refugees bring nothing more than the few personal belongings they can. Are these really the things we want to take from refugees in Denmark? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.”

Some have compared the Danish new law to the confiscation of gold and other valuables from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust*.  

The plan has "a particularly bitter connotation in Europe, where the Nazis confiscated large amounts of gold and other valuables from Jews and others," The Washington Post commented.

It’s been reported today that similar laws already exist in Switzerland and Germany. Dozens of cases were reported in Switzerland of migrants' assets being confiscated to fund their living expenses, although in Germany it was unclear if, or how widely, the policy was enforced.

Denmark accepted about 20,000 asylum seekers in 2015 – 2% of the total to arrive in Europe last year.  Europe is currently confronting the greatest movement of refugees since World War II.

• Today is Holocaust Memorial Day*


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