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IMMIGRATION

Danish government likely to exempt Ukrainians from controversial refugee ‘jewellery law’

A controversial law allowing Danish authorities to confiscate valuable items from refugees is unlikely to be applied to Ukrainians who seek protection in the Nordic country.

The Ukrainian flag flies in Copenhagen
The Ukrainian flag flies in Copenhagen on March 3rd 2022. The government is unlikely to apply the controversial 'jewellery law' to refugees from Ukraine. Photo: Liselotte Sabroe/Ritzau Scanpix

The immigration spokesman for the Social Democratic government, Rasmus Stoklund, told newspaper Ekstra Bladet that the law should not be applied to Ukrainians who come to Denmark to escape the Russian invasion of their country.

The so-called ‘jewellery law’ was passed in 2016 by the previous government and was the subject of domestic and international criticism. The legislation allows police to confiscate cash and valuables above 10,000 kroner from arriving migrants and asylum seekers.

It has not been altered by the current government, although reports in 2019 suggested it was rarely, or perhaps never, used in practice.

Stoklund also said that the government and parliament are looking into rule changes related to residency in Denmark for Ukrainians, so they are not initially affected by asylum laws.

If that were to become the case, the jewellery law would not be applicable to people who come to Denmark from Ukraine, even though they are war refugees.

Stoklund justified the government’s new stance on the jewellery law by arguing Denmark was a regional neighbour to Ukraine.

Refugees in Denmark primarily came from Syria at the time the jewellery law was enacted.

“The jewellery law is made for if you leave the nearby region [Danish: nærområde, literally ‘near area’, ed.] where you are safe, and travel through (other) safe countries. But that is not the case for Ukrainians. We are in their nearby region,” Stoklund told Ekstra Bladet.

The largest party in opposition in Denmark, the Liberal party, has also backed exempting Ukrainians from the jewellery law.

READ ALSO: Denmark wants special residency law for Ukrainians

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IMMIGRATION

Danish police use controversial ‘jewellery law’ 17 times in last six years

More than six years after the controversial 'jewellery law' was passed, enabling Danish authorities to confiscate valuable items from refugees, the law has been used 17 times, according to figures from the National Police.

Danish police use controversial 'jewellery law' 17 times in last six years

The figures were shown by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Integration, Kaare Dybvad Bek to Danish parliament.

The legislation, which came into effect in February 2016, allows police to confiscate cash and valuables with a value 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.

According to the police figures, there have been between 0 to 5 jewellery law cases a year, from 5th February 2016 to 30th May 2022. For example the law hasn’t been used this year or in 2019 but in 2021, the law was used five times, involving nationals of Iran, Eritrea, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

However it is not clear what has been taken in each case; whether the item was jewellery or what the value was.

Controversy

At the time of its introduction, the law, which was passed by a large parliamentary majority, 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.

Technically the law could have applied to Ukrainians who have come to Denmark as refugees, to escape Russian invasion of their country but Danish parliament decided the law should not apply to Ukrainians.

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