• Denmark's news in English
 
app_header_v3
Denmark passes controversial bill to take migrants' valuables
Asylum seekers in the Red Cross's centre in Auderød. Photo: Jens Nørgaard Larsen/Scanpix

Denmark passes controversial bill to take migrants' valuables

Sören Billing/AFP · 26 Jan 2016, 19:49

Published: 26 Jan 2016 08:15 GMT+01:00
Updated: 26 Jan 2016 19:49 GMT+01:00

The bill presented by the right-wing minority government of Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen was approved by a huge majority of 81 of the 109 lawmakers present, as members of the opposition Social Democrats backed the measures.
 
The bill was watered down significantly since it was originally proposed, with wedding rings and low-value items explicitly excluded from threat of confiscation in the final draft.
 
Approval had been widely expected, as the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, backed the measures as did government support parties the Danish People's Party, the Conservatives and Liberal Alliance.
 
"There's no simple answer for a single country, but until the world comes together on a joint solution (to the migrant crisis), Denmark needs to act," MP Jakob Ellemann-Jensen of Rasmussen's Venstre party said during the debate.
 
The Danish government has insisted the new law is needed to stem the flow of refugees even though Denmark and Sweden recently tightened their borders, a move that prompted Germany and Austria to turn back new arrivals heading for Scandinavia.
 
While international outrage has focused on a proposal allowing police to seize cash and valuables from refugees to help pay for their stay in asylum centres, rights activists have blasted a proposed three-year delay for family reunifications which they say breaches international conventions.
 
 
'What is the alternative?'
Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen of the right-wing Venstre party has shrugged off criticism by calling it "the most misunderstood bill in Denmark's history", seemingly more concerned with opinion polls that show 70 percent of Danes rank immigration as their top political concern.
 
Social Democrat Dan Jørgensen addressed opponents of the bill, demanding: "To those saying what we are doing is wrong, my question is: What is your alternative?
 
"The alternative is that we continue to be (one of) the most attractive countries in Europe to come to, and then we end up like Sweden."
 
Copenhagen has often referred to neighbouring Sweden as a bad example, where 163,000 asylum applications were submitted last year -- five times more than in Denmark relative to their population size.
 
Denmark's minority government eventually backtracked on parts of the plan to confiscate migrants' valuables in order to secure wider backing.
 
Asylum-seekers will now have to hand over cash exceeding 10,000 kroner (€1,340, $1,450) and any individual items valued at more than that amount, up from the initial 3,000 kroner proposed.
 
After thorny negotiations with the other parties, Integration Minister Inger Støjberg agreed to exempt wedding rings and other items of sentimental value.
 
The government points out that Danes seeking to qualify for social benefits sometimes also have to sell their valuables. However, they are not subjected to the kind of searches proposed in the new asylum law.
 
Some have likened the Danish proposals to the confiscation of gold and other valuables from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
 
The plan has "a particularly bitter connotation in Europe, where the Nazis confiscated large amounts of gold and other valuables from Jews and others," The Washington Post wrote.
 
 
'Just plain wrong'
Once a champion of refugee rights, the Scandinavian country's goal is now to become "significantly less attractive for asylum-seekers", Støjberg said.
 
"The tone in the public debate about refugees and immigrants has undoubtedly become tougher," Kashif Ahmad, the leader of the National Party (Nationalpartiet), which hopes to enter parliament by targeting the immigrant vote, told AFP.
 
John Dalhuisen, Europe and Central Asia director at Amnesty International, said the law was "plain wrong" and "a sad reflection of how far Denmark has strayed" from its historic support of international norms in the Refugee Convention.
 
"European states must stop this dismal race to the bottom and begin to meet their international obligations, by upholding refugees' human rights and dignity," said Dalhuisen. "Anything less is a betrayal of our common humanity."
 
But Marcus Knuth, Venstre's spokesman on integration issues, said such criticism was unfair.
 
"Denmark continues to be one of the most welcoming and caring places that you can seek asylum in. So the criticism that all of a sudden we were doing something wrong we find highly, highly unfair," he told AFP.
 
"We simply wish to be put more at par with other European countries so that we are not one of the countries that receive by far the most asylum-seekers."
 
International criticism
Home to 5.6 million people, Denmark registered 21,000 asylum applications in 2015, making it one of the top EU destinations per capita for migrants but putting it far behind the 163,000 registered in neighbouring Sweden.
Story continues below…
 
International criticism had mounted in the run-up to Tuesday's vote, with refugee agency UNHCR claiming it violates the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Refugee Convention.
 
But Rasmussen, whose Venstre party won a June 2015 election after promising an "immediate slowdown" of Denmark's refugee influx, has been unfazed, arguing that the UN Refugee Convention may need to be changed if refugees keep pouring into Europe.
 
Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen defended the new law last week as he appeared before the United Nations for a review of Denmark's human rights policies.
 
"The Danish welfare state is based upon the very simple principle that the state will provide and pay for those unable to take care of themselves, not for those who are able," he told the Human Rights Council.
 
He and Støjberg reiterated the same line as they faced questioning from European MPs in the civil liberties committee on Monday.
 
Twenty-seven MPs voted against the bill in the one-chamber parliament, including three dissenting Social Democrats. A legislator for Greenland, a Danish territory, abstained and 70 MPs did not take part.
 
The bill is scheduled to be signed into law by Queen Margrethe within a few days.
 
Danish lawmakers last week also passed a resolution pushing the government to look into the consequences of building temporary housing complexes outside cities for refugees, like the country did during the Balkans war in the 1990s.
 
The move is backed by the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, which sees it as a first step towards building state-run camps where refugees would stay without integrating into Danish society.

For more news from Denmark, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Sören Billing/AFP (news.denmark@thelocal.com)

Today's headlines
Danish police use infamous 'jewellery law' for first time
File photo of volunteers awaiting arriving migrants at Copenhagen Central Station. Photo: Nils Meilvang/Scanpix

UPDATED: A total of 79,600 kroner was seized from five Iranian nationals.

Roskilde Festival 2016
The Local's not-quite-live Roskilde 2016 blog
Young love, summer and Roskilde – could it be more beautiful? Photo: Bobby Anwar

We're posting updates all week as a field in Roskilde is temporarily turned in to the fourth largest city in Denmark.

Opinion
Stop trashing your city, Copenhagen residents!
This is not a garbage can! Photo: Louis Volpe

Denmark and its capital have a lot to be proud of, but the way residents treat the entire city like a rubbish bin is not one of them, writes American expat Louis Volpe.

Danish bankers eye Brexit cash-in
File photo: Vladimir Wrangel/Iris/Scanpix

Experts in the Danish finance industry have called for changes to tax laws so that Denmark can take advantage of a potential banking exodus from London following last week's Brexit vote.

Dejlige Days Welcome
Why you should learn Danish (and how it will benefit you)
Learning Danish will open up personal and professional opportunities. Photo: william87/Iris/Scanpix

Relocation expert Melanie Haynes offers up her eight top reasons for why you should at least make an effort to learn the local language.

Danes with foreign spouses to be hit by new restriction
Some 200,000 Danes living abroad could be impacted by the new rule. Photo: Iris

Danes and their foreign spouses will now have a much harder time living in Denmark.

Danish students and caps: What’s all the noise about?
Thousands of young students have taken to the streets of Denmark wearing their caps. Photo: Knud Erik Christensen/Colourbox

During the month of June, Danish towns are overtaken by jubilant young adults wearing assorted styles of graduation caps (studenterhuer). The Local brings you a guide to what the caps mean, their history and significance to the class of 2016.

Photo gallery
Devil horns up! A photo journey through Copenhell
Copenhell was completely sold out for the first time ever. Photo: Philip B. Hansen

The Local joined the headbanging masses at this year's Copenhell heavy metal festival to bring you this devilish photo report.

Roskilde Festival 2016
From Russia with love: Snowden addresses Roskilde
Snowden's broadcast address was watched by a large and enthusiastic crowd. Photo: Mathias Løvgreen Bojesen/Scanpix

Broadcast live from Moscow, whistleblower Edward Snowden was greeted like a rock star by the festival crowd.

Cage eggs soon to be a thing of the past in Denmark
Cage eggs are laid by hens that never see the light of day. Photo: Vi Ælsker Æg

Denmark’s largest retail company will stop selling eggs laid by cage chickens.

Sponsored Article
VIDEO: Why Malmö is the world's 6th best city for biking
International
After Brexit, Danish PM resists calls for similar EU referendum
International
Why Denmark won't try to follow the UK out of the EU
Copenhagen police tear down Christiania cannabis market
National
Copenhagen police tear down Christiania cannabis market
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Danish PM: Orlando shooting act of 'hatred'
International
Danish PM: Orlando shooting act of 'hatred'
Society
Sex campaigns lead to Danish baby boom
National
Don't worry Denmark, the world still loves you
Culture
Danish diversity ad a massive social media hit – have you seen it?
National
Denmark scraps green card but spares current holders
Denmark takes historic step for transgender rights
Society
Denmark takes historic step for transgender rights
Denmark to impose new 'integration' rules on kids
National
Denmark to impose new 'integration' rules on kids
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Green card holders in Denmark in race against time
National
Green card holders in Denmark in race against time
How Copenhagen achieved an ‘organic food revolution’
National
How Copenhagen achieved an ‘organic food revolution’
Travel
The second best destination in all of Europe is...
Sport
We are the champions! Denmark wins world badminton team title
After 100 years, British WW1 sailor identified in Denmark
National
After 100 years, British WW1 sailor identified in Denmark
Society
Strangest political story in Denmark just got stranger
International
Keeping Denmark in Europol 'maybe impossible'
Analysis & Opinion
Green card holders tell Denmark to keep its promise
National
Denmark picks F-35 in historic jet purchase
Society
Denmark to no longer define transgender as mental illness
National
Danish minister tells 'Sharia' troublemakers to 'get a job'
Culture
Danish 'martyr' exhibit reported to police
2,269
jobs available