LONDON — Denmark is poised to pass a law requiring newly arrived refugees to hand over valuables, including gold or jewelry, to help pay for the costs of lodging them. Under the proposal, asylum seekers who enter the country with more than 10,000 kroner, or about $1,450, in assets would have to help finance their stay.
The proposal, which has outraged humanitarian activists and raised the ire of United Nations officials, is the latest in a series of migrant-deterring steps taken recently by Denmark, which once prided itself on its openness to foreigners. The government took out newspaper ads in Lebanon informing would-be asylum seekers that welfare benefits for refugees had been cut in half. Its prime minister warned that the 1951 United Nations treaty governing the rights of refugees might have to be revised. And last week, it imposed temporary controls along its border with Germany.
Critics say the latest measure evokes Europe’s darkest hours, when the Nazis seized valuables from Jews during the Holocaust. The government has amended the bill to exempt from confiscation “objects with sentimental value,” like wedding and engagement rings and family portraits. A vote is scheduled for Jan. 26, and approval with wide cross-party support is expected.
Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen defended the bill this week. “This is probably the most misunderstood proposal in the history of Denmark,” he was quoted as saying by Politiken, a Danish daily newspaper. “Looking at the debate, you almost get the impression that we are going to turn people upside down to see if we can shake the last coin out of their pockets. That is completely distorted and wrong.”
Mr. Rasmussen said the bill would merely make the same requirement of refugees that Danish law already does for the country’s citizens — that they must use their own resources before they can qualify for welfare benefits.
Other countries in Europe, even the most hospitable, have also been tightening their borders against the flow of thousands of asylum seekers, citing economic and security concerns. Fears are growing that terrorists are entering Europe masquerading as refugees. Finland has called on asylum seekers to work without pay, and Sweden introduced identity checks last week for travelers arriving from Denmark, prompting Denmark to do the same along its border with Germany.
In Denmark, as in countries like France and Sweden, a far-right populist party, the Danish People’s Party, has been attracting voters by railing against immigration. Mr. Rasmussen’s governing center-right party, which does not have a majority in Parliament, often needs the Danish People’s Party’s support to pass legislation.
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