Denmark Passes Law Allowing Police to Confiscate Refugees' Belongings

Critics say the legislation is intended to deter asylum seekers from entering the country.

A Danish policeman checks the identity papers of passengers on a train arriving from Germany in Padborg, Denmark. (Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Jan 26, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

After hours of debate among lawmakers in the Danish Parliament, on Tuesday Denmark passed controversial legislation that limits the items refugees can bring into the country and extends the wait time before they can seek to be reunited with family. The law, which has been heavily criticized by human rights groups, gives police the authority to confiscate any of an asylum seeker's personal belongings that are valued at more than 10,000 kroner, or about $1,452.

Speaking with reporters earlier in January, Denmark's immigration minister, Inger Støjberg, stressed that the law would not apply to sentimental objects including wedding rings or practical devices such as watches and cell phones. She defended it as a measure to prevent refugees with financial support from taking advantage of the country's public assistance programs. The law also mandates that refugees must wait three years—triple the previous wait time—before applying through the Danish government to be reunited with children and other family members.

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Critics including the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Amnesty International, and the Council of Europe say the law is a not-so-subtle attempt to deter refugees from seeking asylum in Denmark. In an 18-page document drafted by the UNHCR in response, the refugee agency called it "a deeply concerning response to humanitarian needs" and expressed concern that it could trigger xenophobia, fear, and similar restrictions in other European countries.

"UNHCR regrets that Denmark is restricting its asylum legislation for the sole purpose of curbing the number of asylum-seekers instead of focusing on promoting and supporting a fair distribution of asylum-seekers within all EU Member States," the agency wrote. On Jan. 7, a day after the document was published, Denmark amended its proposal by increasing the monetary value of the items refugees could keep. The proposal initially stipulated that asylum seekers' belongings could be seized if they totaled more than just 3,000 kroner—or the equivalent of $436.

Denmark, which last September opted out of the European Union's proposal to share 160,000 refugees, is not the only country to seize refugees' assets on arrival. In Switzerland, asylum seekers are required to give up belongings valued at more than 1,000 francs, or just under $1,000, to help the government pay for their stay, according to local news reports.

Several southern states in Germany have enacted similar processes for asylum seekers holding cash and valuables worth more than 750 euros, or $810. Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian Refugee Council told Deutsche Welle that seizing valuables is a standard practice that allows the government to recover the expenses it incurs by housing refugees, according to the International Business Times.

The new law in Denmark comes just three weeks after the country imposed border controls between Jan. 4 and 14 to prevent refugees from entering without travel documents. Sweden introduced similar security measures the same day.