The Danish parliament on Wednesday debated a controversial plan to seize refugees’ valuables, with the bill widely expected to pass after being backed by a majority of lawmakers.
The bill has been condemned by the UN refugee agency, which fears it could fuel xenophobia, while international media have compared the searches to Nazi Germany’s seizing of gold and valuables from Jews and others during World War II.
“Refugees have lost their homes and almost everything they possess, it beggars belief that somebody would want to strip them away from the little they have managed to salvage from their lives,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman William Spindler said.
The proposal would allow Danish authorities to seize asylum seekers’ cash exceeding 10,000 kroner (US$1,456), as well as any individual items valued at more than 10,000 kroner.
Wedding rings would be exempt, along with other items of sentimental value, such as engagement rings, family portraits and medals.
A vote on the proposal is scheduled to be held on Jan. 26.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen’s right-wing government has faced a wave of criticism over its plan, and to secure the backing of other ministers it agreed to amend the bill by raising the amount of cash a refugee can keep from an initially proposed 3,000 kroner to 10,000.
It reached an agreement on Tuesday with other parties in parliament to secure a majority for the upcoming vote.
The Scandinavian nation has some of Europe’s strictest immigration policies and has repeatedly tightened its regulations in recent months to deter foreigners from seeking a new life in the nation.
However, the bill, even in its amended form, came under fire again on Wednesday by a group of 10 local and regional members of Rasmussen’s ruling Venstre party.
“It is not just a matter of proper policy and humanity, but also Denmark’s international reputation,” they wrote in the Berlingske daily.
In a near-empty parliament on Wednesday, Danish Minister of Integration Inger Stojberg said there had been “some criticism and many, many misunderstandings — maybe also sometimes deliberate misunderstandings.”
The main spokeswoman for the leftist Red-Green Alliance, Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen, said it was “rather unclear what jewelry is going to be snatched from the refugees” and that the aim of the proposal was simply to tell the world “that Denmark is not a nice place to be.”
Danish Social Democratic lawmaker Dan Jorgensen defended what he called a “compromise” solution hammered out “in a difficult situation.”
Denmark, a nation of 5.4 million, received 21,000 asylum applications last year, compared to 163,000 in Sweden, home to 9.8 million people.
EU Vice President Frans Timmerman said the 28-nation bloc would examine the Danish plan “once the law is adopted and ... then give our official position to the Danish government.”
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