Denmark to Refugees: No Worries, You Can Keep Your Wedding Rings

After a proposal was compared to Nazi policies, the government agrees to take only items valued at more than $1,500.
Refugees from Syria hoping to receive asylum in Denmark wait for a train in a station near the Danish border in Flensburg, Germany, on Jan. 6. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
Jan 9, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

After the United Nations called on Denmark to overhaul its harsh policies on refugee settlement, the Danish government threw the diplomatic body a few bones by modifying a controversial proposal to require that asylum seekers forfeit valuable possessions to apply for sanctuary.

The Scandanavian nation’s parliament revised a pending bill to increase the limit of value on personal items that refugees would be able to keep when seeking asylum. Originally, government officials would be able to seize items valued above 3,000 kroner ($440). The change raises the figure to 10,000 kroner ($1,460), Reuters reports.

The proposal is justified, supporters say, so that refugees with means of support aren’t benefitting from public assistance, though critics insist it is only to discourage migration.

FULL COVERAGE: The Global Refugee Crisis

Integration minister Inger Støjberg pointed out that items such as watches, mobile phones, and family heirlooms would be exempt. “There have been doubts as to whether one could be allowed to keep a wedding ring,” Støjberg told a Danish news outlet on Friday, according to Reuters. “And of course you can keep an ordinary wedding ring when you come to Denmark.” The bill is set for a vote next week.

Changes to the bill came one day after the United Nations High Commission for Refugees issued an 18-page report condemning Denmark’s treatment of migrants. Confiscation of items was high on its list of concerns, with the report stating that such practices were “an affront to [refugees’] dignity and an arbitrary interference with their right to privacy.”

Members of Denmark’s ruling conservative party say these seized goods will help fund refugee benefit programs.

“In Denmark, if one can manage on one’s own, one manages on one’s own. It’s a principle which must apply as much to asylum seekers as it applies to Danes,” said Støjberg, according to Denmark’s The Local. Last month, she compared refugee benefits to those of citizens seeking governmental assistance. “It is already the case that if you as a Dane have valuables for more than 10,000 kroner, it may be required that this is sold before you can receive unemployment benefits.” she said.

While the policy has been called cruel and has been compared to the Nazis’ practice of seizing valuables from Jews during World War II, critics have also asserted that it is an underhanded attempt to discourage migrants from coming to Denmark. The U.N.’s recent report said Denmark’s policies were “aimed at conveying a message to make it ‘less attractive’ to seek asylum in Denmark.” Along with confiscating valuables, the Nordic nation has cut benefits in half and delayed family reunification for refugees—policies the government publicized with ads in Lebanese newspapers last year.

Germany estimates it received 1 million migrants in 2015, and Sweden saw 150,000 asylum applications by the year’s end. Fewer than 20,000 people sought sanctuary in Denmark last year.