Danish prime minister defends controversial ‘jewellery’ law

Lars Løkke Rasmussen [Venstre/Flickr]

Denmark’s Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen, defended pending legislation on Tuesday (12 January), that would allow the authorities to confiscate refugees’ valuables, in order to pay for their stay in asylum shelters.

During a press briefing, Rasmussen said that the law is the “most misunderstood in Danish history”.

The law grants Danish police the right to seize asylum seekers’ cash or valuables which exceed 10,000 Danish crowns (€1,340), unless the valuables are of sentimental value, such as wedding and engagement rings.

The law is expected to be approved by the Danish parliament on 26 January, as the governing Liberals have the backing of the Conservative Party, the libertarian Liberal Alliance, the far-right Danish People’s Party, and the Social Democrats.

“When you look at the debate, you almost get the impression that when people come to the border, they’re going to be turned on their heads to see if their last coins can’t be shaken from their pockets. It’s completely distorted and wrong,” he said.

>>Read: Denmark to introduce border controls

The prime minister likewise attacked foreign media in December, particularly from the US, which compared Denmark to Nazi Germany, by saying that Americans don’t understand Danish society. While refugees there have to provide for themselves from day one, asylum seekers in Denmark receive free housing, food, healthcare, education and pocket money, he said.

Some Danish municipalities say they spend more than 100,000 Danish crowns per asylum seeker per year. In 2015, Denmark received around 18,000 asylum applications, mainly from Syrians, and expects between 20,000 and 25,000 in 2016. 

Minister for Migration Inger Støjberg has argued that the new law is “fair”, as it puts refugees on a par with Danish families who are unable to support themselves, as their revenues and assets are deducted from their cash assistance.

But Jens Rhode, a Danish MEP, who over Christmas left the Liberals and joined the Social Liberal Party in protest over the law, said on the talkshow Deadline Tuesday evening: “There’s no way you can compare people on this benefit with refugees.”

“It’s unworthy for Denmark. It’s unworthy for the people. It’s unworthy for refugees when you take their values.”

>>Read: Denmark advertises how bad the country is to refugees

Conservative politician Naser Khader, who has Syrian roots, said: “I wish we could have avoided this discussion. If a refugee has a fortune, we shouldn’t spend tax money on them. If they don’t have that, the Danish state will provide for them.”

Rasmussen defended Denmark, arguing that it has had a tough stance on migration policy for years, and will introduce even stricter measures.

“You witness situations where it breaks your heart because people have lost family members in wars. Maybe they have experienced bad things on their way to Denmark, and you think ‘We need to open our doors and help’. But if we, year after year, have to accept this high number of asylum seekers, it will challenge us and change our society permanently,” Rasmussen told the Ritzau news agency.

“Therefore we need to have this under control, but in a way where we live up to international obligations and our own humanitarian standards.” 

European Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans told reporters that the executive would examine the law once it is adopted, and would “certainly” assess whether the bill is in breach of EU law. 

The European Union has agreed on a plan, resisted by Hungary and several other ex-Communist members of the bloc, to share out 120,000 refugees among its members, a small proportion of the million plus refugees that reached Europe's borders from the Middle East, Africa and Asia in 2015.

The EU is also courting Turkey with the promise of money, visa-free travel, and new accession talks if Ankara tries to stem the flow of refugees across its territory.

  • 26 January: Danish parliament expected to approve controversial jewelry bill.

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