Denmark approves controversial migrant assets bill
27 Jan 2016
- In a move that has drawn severe criticism from the international community, Denmark has voted in a law that allows officials to seize assets of refugees to cover housing and food costs.
- MPs also approved plans to delay family reunions for asylum seekers, in a bid to discourage others.
- The move has drawn comparisons to the confiscation of valuables from Jews during WW2.
What is the new law?
- The new law gives Danish authorities "the power to search clothes and luggage of asylum seekers... with a view to finding assets."
- Assets worth over €1,340, including cash, cell phones, wallets and computers are liable to seizure by police and border guards.
- Wedding rings and any other items of sentimental value are exempt. Savings and money in bank accounts will not be seized either.
How do Danish authorities justify the new law?
- Denmark expects to receive around 25,000 asylum seekers in 2016, compared with 21,000 last year.
- Danish lawmakers defended the law saying that the policy brings refugees in line with unemployed Danes, who also face selling their assets to claim unemployment benefits.
- Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen described the law as "the most misunderstood bill in Denmark's history".
Danish authorities: Is there a viable alternative?
70 percent of Danes rank immigration as their top political concern. Addressing opponents of the bill, Danish law makers asked: "To those saying what we are doing is wrong, my question is: What is your alternative?"
Are countries legally permitted to do so?
- Denmark is bound by the UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights.
- Seizure of cash and assets, though criticized, fall under a legal gray area within EU's and the UN's refugee laws.
- However, Denmark's decision to delay family reunions raises issues of "compatibility with Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights", said Europe's commissioner for human rights, Nils Muiznieks.
Do other countries in EU have similar laws?
- In Switzerland, asylum seekers are to declare all assets and authorities can confiscate migrants assets worth over €1000 for a period of 20 years.
- In Netherlands, authorities can confiscate assets exceeding a value of €5,895 for an individual or €11,790 for a family.
- In Bavaria and Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany, migrants assets and valuables worth more than €750 and €350 respectively can legally be seized.
How have people reacted to these laws?
- A spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon criticised the decision, saying refugees "should be treated with compassion and respect."
- Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of Denmark's opposition left Red-Green Alliance that opposed the bill, said it was "a symbolic move to scare people away."
- Amnesty International regional director John Dalhuisen said "this is a sad reflection of how far Denmark has strayed" from accepted EU policies.