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13 Jan, 2016 01:49

Right-wing Danish MPs claim majority support for plan to take cash & valuables from asylum seekers

Right-wing Danish MPs claim majority support for plan to take cash & valuables from asylum seekers

Denmark has moved forward with a controversial plan to seize refugees’ cash and jewelry in return for living in asylum centers. The bill has gained a parliamentary majority, implying it should win in an upcoming vote despite heavy criticism by the UN.

“We want to limit the inflow,” Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen, whose right-wing Venstre party is behind the plan, told reporters on Tuesday. He went on to call it "the most misunderstood bill in Denmark's history."

The country’s far-right Danish People’s Party (DPP), the Liberal Alliance, and the Conservative People’s Party have reached an agreement on the bill, meaning it enjoys the support of the majority of the parties in the Danish parliament.

Three smaller left-wing parties – the Red Green Alliance, the Socialist People’s Party and The Alternative – have maintained their opposition to the draft. 

With two weeks left until a January 26 vote, the Parliament will begin a series of debates on the bill on Wednesday.

Proposed in late 2015, the bill would allow Danish authorities to strip migrants of cash and any individual items whose combined value exceeds 10,000 kroner (€1,340, $1,450). Lawmakers have raised the limit to $1,450 since its last consideration in mid-December, bringing it in line with Denmark’s existing law, which requires Danes to sell all of their valuables in order to apply for unemployment benefits.

However, the refugee-stripping bill has been amended to exempt engagement rings, family portraits, and badges of honor.

“The government, the Social Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, the Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party have agreed to amend the bill concerning valuables,” a government statement said, according to The Local Denmark news portal.

If passed into law, local Danish authorities will have the right to confiscate articles such as watches, mobile phones, computers and other gadgets if their value tips the total worth of cash and items over 10,000 kroner, the agreement says.

Integration Minister Inger Stojberg has defended the bill, saying that with the latest amendments, refugees would be in a better position than Danes.

“It is true that with the change made now, you can in some instances see that asylum seekers are in a better position than people who have lived in Denmark their entire lives,” she told Ritzau news agency.

Prime Minister Rasmussen has also rebuffed criticism of the bill, saying it was exaggerated.

“When you look at the debate, you almost get the impression that when people come to the border they’re going to be turned on their heads to see if their last coins can’t be shaken from their pockets. It’s completely distorted and wrong,” he told media Tuesday, according to AFP.

Danish lawmakers’ initial proposal triggered an angry backlash, with some critics comparing it to something that might have been adopted in Nazi Germany.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has condemned Denmark for tightening its immigration rules, saying it “regrets” what it called the Danes’ “deeply concerning response” to the global refugee problem.

“The proposals presented by the government are evidently aimed at conveying a message to make it ‘less attractive’ to seek asylum in Denmark, and is a deeply concerning response to humanitarian needs,” the UN refugee agency said in a January 6 statement. “The signal Denmark’s introduction of restrictions sends to other countries in the world […] is worrisome and could fuel fear, xenophobia and similar restrictions that would reduce – rather than expand – the asylum space globally and put refugees in need at life- threatening risks,” the UNHCR’s report read.

The bill in question is just the latest in a string of a dozen new rules Denmark has considered as it strives to reduce the number of refugees coming to the country.

Other measures have included shortening residence permits, delaying family reunifications, and the reduction of economic benefits for asylum seekers.

In 2015, Denmark accepted nearly 20,000 asylum-seekers, up from 14,000 in 2014. However, despite the increase, Denmark is still way behind Sweden, where almost 163,000 refugees sought asylum last year.