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


Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

Denmark now aims to work with other EU countries to transfer asylum seekers to centres outside Europe and has suspended talks with Rwanda as it no longer plans to go it alone, its migration minister said on Wednesday.

Denmark suspends asylum centre talks with Rwanda

The Scandinavian country’s plans, first announced by the previous Social Democratic government, called for people seeking asylum in Denmark to be transferred to reception centres outside the European Union while their requests were processed.

A law adopted in June 2021 did not specify which country would host the centre, but said asylum seekers should stay there even after they were granted refugee status.

Discussions were launched with Rwanda and other countries, but they have now been suspended since the installation of a new Danish left-right government in December headed by the Social Democrats.

“We are not holding any negotiations at the moment about the establishment of a Danish reception centre in Rwanda”, Migration and Integration Minister Kaare Dybvad told daily Altinget.

“This is a new government. We still have the same ambition, but we have a different process”, he added. “The new government’s programme calls for the establishment of a reception centre outside Europe “in cooperation with the EU or a number of other countries”.

The change is an about-face for the Social Democrats, which had until now rejected any European collaboration, judging it slow and thorny.

“While the wider approach also makes sense to us, [Denmark’s change of heart] is precisely because there has been movement on the issue among many European countries”, Dybvad said. “There are many now pushing for a stricter asylum policy in Europe”, he said.


Inger Støjberg, leader of the Denmark Democrats said on Facebook that she was “honestly disgusted” by the government’s decision to delay plans for a reception centre in Rwanda, pointing out that Kaare Dybvad had said during the election campaign that a deal would be done with Rwanda within a year. 

“Call us old-fashioned, but we say the same thing both before and after an election. We stand firm on a strict immigration policy. The Social Democrats, Liberals and Moderates clearly do not,” she said. 

Lars Boje Mathiesen from the New Right Party accused the government of perpetrating a “deadly fraud” on the Danish people. 

“It is said in Christiansborg that it is paused. But we all know what that means,” he wrote on Facebook, accusing Danish prime minister Mette Frederiksen of “empty words” in the run-up to the election. 

In the face of this reaction, Dybvad told the Ritzau newswire that although talks with Rwanda were not happening at present, the government had not given up on a deal with the African nation. He also said that he was confident that asylum reception centres outside of the EU would be a reality within five years.

EU interior ministers are meeting in Stockholm this week to discuss asylum reform. Those talks are expected to focus on how to speed up the process of returning undocumented migrants to their country of origin in cases where their asylum bid fails.

Denmark’s immigration policy has been influenced by the far-right for more than 20 years. Even Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, the head of the Social Democrats, has pursued a “zero refugee” policy since coming to power in 2019.

Copenhagen has over the years implemented a slew of initiatives to discourage migrants and made Danish citizenship harder to obtain. In 2020, it became the only country in Europe to withdraw residency permits from Syrians from Damascus, judging that the situation there was now safe enough for them to return.