Denmark Set to Raise the Bar for New Refugees ; Plan Requiring Migrants to Defer Social Costs Adds to a Less Welcoming Face

By Bilefsky, Dan | International New York Times, January 14, 2016 | Go to article overview

Denmark Set to Raise the Bar for New Refugees ; Plan Requiring Migrants to Defer Social Costs Adds to a Less Welcoming Face


Bilefsky, Dan, International New York Times


Under a proposed law, asylum seekers who arrive with more than about $1,450 in cash would have to give up belongings like gold and jewelry to finance their stay.

Denmark, which once prided itself on its openness to foreigners, has sent another message to migrants in recent months: Think twice before coming. It 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.

In a move that has outraged humanitarian activists and even raised the ire of United Nations officials, Denmark is now poised to pass a law that would require refugees to hand over valuables, including gold or jewelry, to help pay for the costs of lodging them. Under the proposed legislation, asylum seekers who enter the country with cash totaling more than 10,000 kroner, or about $1,450, would have to finance their own stay.

Critics say the measures evoke Europe's darkest hours, when the Nazis seized valuables from Jews during the Holocaust. The government has amended the bill so that the police would not be allowed to confiscate "objects with sentimental value," like wedding and engagement rings, and family portraits. A vote on the measures is scheduled for Jan. 26. Approval, with wide cross-party support, is expected.

Denmark's prime minister, Lars Lokke Rasmussen, defended the bill this week, noting that Danish citizens have similar requirements: They must use their own resources if they have more than 10,000 kroner before qualifying for welfare.

"This is probably the most misunderstood proposal in the history of Denmark," Mr. Rasmussen was quoted as saying by Politiken, a Danish daily. "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."

The proposed law comes as even the most hospitable countries in Europe, citing economic and security concerns, have been tightening their borders against the flow of thousands of asylum seekers. Finland has called on asylum seekers to work without pay, and Sweden last week introduced identity checks for travelers arriving from Denmark, prompting Denmark to do the same along its border with Germany.

In Denmark, as in countries such as 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 its support to pass legislation. …

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