Three years after Denmark’s infamous ‘jewellery law’ hit world headlines, not a single piece has been confiscated

A controversial law enabling Danish authorities to confiscate valuable items from refugees, known as the ‘jewellery law’, was passed by parliament on January 26th, 2016.

Three years after Denmark’s infamous 'jewellery law' hit world headlines, not a single piece has been confiscated
Asylum seekers arriving at Nyborg in 2015. File photo: Sophia Juliane Lydolph/Scanpix 2015

The legislation allows police to confiscate cash and valuables above 10,000 kroner from arriving migrants and asylum seekers.

Under Ministry of Immigration guidelines, police are told not to take wedding rings or engagement rings and individual officers are left to determine the sentimental value of other items.

Since it came into effect in February 2016, one car and 186,000 kroner in cash have been seized – and no jewellery, news agency Ritzau reported this week.

Those figures have resulted in critics saying the law is more symbolic than practical in purpose.

“We think that, instead of making symbolic restrictions such as this, a new and humane asylum system should be brought in, so people don’t have to flee,” Jacob Mark, parliamentary group leader with the Socialist People’s Party, said to Ritzau.

Rasmus Nordqvist, a political spokesperson with the Alternative party, tweeted that the jewellery law “has shown itself, as expected, to be pure optics.”

“I wish (Danish politics) spent its time on politics that changes and improves the world instead of sending out unpleasant signals,” Nordqvist added.

At the time of its introduction, the law received criticism from international human rights groups including US-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW).

“Does a rich country like Denmark really need to strip the very assets of these desperate asylum seekers before providing them basic services?” HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth said in January 2016.

Disapproval could also be found in international media, including in a New York Times editorial and a cartoon published by British paper The Independent, which depicted the Little Mermaid flush with cash and jewellery confiscated from refugees.

Minister for Immigration and Integration Inger Støjberg said she did not see the low number of confiscations as giving weight to criticism of the legislation.

“It is a matter of principal that, if you can provide for yourself, you must do so. That applies to Danes and it also applies to the refugees that come here,” she told Ritzau in a written message.

Støjberg cited low Danish refugee intake figures – 2018 saw the lowest number of arrivals since 2008 – as proof that the jewellery law and the government's overall policy of being strict on immigration was paying off, the news agency writes.

The jewellery law was originally passed by a large parliamentary majority which included the three parties now part of the conservative coalition government, the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, and the Social Democrats, the largest party in opposition.

The Danish People’s Party’s spokesperson on immigration, Martin Henriksen, has previously said he wants the law to go further by checking whether asylum seekers have money in foreign bank accounts.

Henriksen’s counterpart with the Social Democrats, Mattias Tesfaye, told Ritzau he was also in favour of that idea.

“I think it’s completely logical, regarding valuables worth over 10,000 kroner, that this should apply whether they are in your back pocket or in a German bank account,” Tesfaye said.

Støjberg said that she did not see this as a realistic option.

“I find it difficult to see how we would be able to check what someone has in a foreign bank account,” she told Ritzau.

READ ALSO: BBC cross-examines Danes on integration policy


How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.