Germany starts confiscating refugees' valuables; Denmark finalizes bill to do same
Germany's southern states are confiscating refugees' valuables in order to pay for their stay, according to local authorities. It comes as Denmark moves ahead with a plan to do the same, part of a controversial bill aimed at curbing asylum seekers' rights.
"Cash holdings and valuables can be secured [by the authorities] if they are over €750 (US$810) and if the person has an outstanding bill, or is expected to have one,” Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann told Bild newspaper on Thursday.
The government of Baden-Württemberg has implemented a stricter process, with police confiscating cash and valuables above €350 ($378).
The average amount per person confiscated by authorities in the southern states has so far been "in the four figures,” according to Bild.
By confiscating the personal belongings of refugees, the states are implementing federal laws that require asylum seekers to use up their own resources before receiving state aid.
"If you apply for asylum here, you must use up your income and wealth before receiving aid," said the federal government's integration commissioner, Aydan Ozoguz, stressing that such wealth includes assets such as family jewelry.
The move has been criticized by the Left party (Die Linke), with MP Ulla Jelpke telling Der Tagesspiegel that “those who apply for asylum are exercising their basic rights [under the German Constitution].”
"That must not – even if they are rejected – be tied up with costs," she said.
Fueling 'fear & xenophobia'
Meanwhile, Denmark is moving ahead on a bill which would also allow its government to confiscate refugees' valuables. Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s minority right-wing government already has enough support for its bill to win a January 26 parliamentary vote.
The legislation, which went through its final reading earlier on Thursday, would allow Danish authorities to seize refugees' cash exceeding 10,000 kroner ($1,450), along with many individual items valued at the same amount or more. Wedding rings and other sentimental items would be exempt.
The European Parliament voted on Wednesday to require Denmark to send an official representative to Brussels to explain the country's plan to confiscate cash and valuables from refugees, Danish media reported. However, the country’s integration minister, Inger Stojberg, has repeatedly stated that "Denmark's immigration policy is decided in Denmark, not in Brussels.”
The bill would also delay family reunifications, increasing the waiting period for war refugees being able to apply to bring over family members from one year to three years ‒ a move that has been slammed by the director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights.
"According to the European Court of Human Rights, the processing of family reunification cases must be expeditious, flexible and efficient with special attention and care," Jonas Christoffersen told AFP. "This is not consistent with a three-year waiting period."
The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Nils Muiznieks, said earlier this month that the issue of family reunifications raises “issues of compatibility with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the right to respect for one's family life."
The bill would also make already strict permanent residency requirements even tougher.
Amnesty International's deputy director for Europe, Gauri van Gulik, has criticized the legislation, stating that singling out refugees already traumatized by war is a “discriminatory practice.”
The bill has also been criticized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which said it “could fuel fear [and] xenophobia.” In its January report, the agency concluded that Denmark will be in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Refugee Convention if the bill goes through.
Seemingly undeterred by the criticism, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has suggested that Denmark may go on to seek a revision of the UN Refugee Convention if the refugee crisis "continues or gets worse.”
Denmark registered 21,000 asylum applications in 2015, making it one of the top EU destinations for refugees after Finland, Austria, Germany and Sweden.
The influx of asylum seekers has led to tensions with locals in some areas, with Danish women reporting sexual harassment by refugees in at least three towns.
Several nightclubs have imposed strict admission rules, requiring patrons to prove their ability to speak Danish, German or English.
Europe continues to face its biggest migrant crisis since 1945, with the numbers of asylum seekers expected to increase this year. More than 1 million refugees entered Europe in 2015, most of them from Syria, where a civil war has taken the lives of 250,000 people and displaced 12 million since 2011, according to UN figures.