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Denmark parliament votes to allow seizure of valuables from refugees

Police will be allowed to seize assets from refugees to cover housing and food expenses

The Danish parliament passed measures Tuesday to deter refugees from seeking asylum, including confiscating valuables to pay for their stay, despite protests from international human rights organizations.

After more than three hours of debate, the minority Liberal Party government's bill was adopted in an 81-27 vote, with the support of the opposition Social Democrats and the anti-immigration Danish People's Party (DF) — Denmark's two largest parties.

The measures, which also include delaying family reunification to three years, are the latest sign that the Nordic welcome for refugees is waning as large numbers flee war in Africa and Middle East in what is becoming Europe's biggest migrant crisis in decades.

The ‘jewelry bill” is the latest attempt by Denmark's seven-month-old minority center-right government to curb immigration to a country that took in a record 20,000 refugees last year.

Under the bill, refugees can keep possessions amounting to 10,000 Danish crowns ($1,450), raised from 3,000 crowns after criticism from human rights organizations. That brings it in line with welfare rules for Danes, who must sell assets worth more than 10,000 kroner before they can receive social benefits. Valuables of special emotional value such as wedding rings will be exempt.

Kristian Jensen, the Danish foreign minister, and Inger Stojberg, the immigration minister, argued on Monday, during a debate at the European Parliament, that the proposed law is fair and in line with the Danish welfare model and compatible with international rules.

“We … think that it is fair and reasonable that those asylum seekers who do bring enough assets with them should cover the costs of their food and lodging during the asylum process,” Stojberg said.

“When you have such a broad, universal welfare system as the Danish one, this is also based on this basic principle that if you can support yourself you have to do so,” she added.

But Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, criticized Denmark, saying people who make the effort to reach Europe “should be treated with compassion and respect” and with full rights as refugees.

The Liberals government has just 34 out of 179 seats in parliament and depends on support of rightist parties, including the anti-immigration DF party to pass laws.

A poll showing 70 percent of voters see it as the most important issue, according to the daily paper Berlingske.

“I wouldn't say that I have become racist or anything,” said Poul Madsen, a taxi driver, before the bill was passed. "But I may be more aware of the fact that this has some downsides and may be a potential problem for our society and our economy."

Denmark is not the only one trying to shut its doors to migrants. Sweden, which took in over 160,000 refugees last year, the most per capita in Europe, introduced checks on its border to Denmark at the start of the year.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven promised on Monday more resources for police after a 22-year-old employee was stabbed to death at a refugee center for unaccompanied minors. A minor was arrested suspected of murder or manslaughter after the incident in Molndal in western Sweden, local TT news agency reported.

A poll on Monday showed support for Lofven's center left Social Democrats at its lowest for nearly 50 years, in part due to a sense that the government was unable to cope with the refugee influx.

Norway, meanwhile, has been trying to send back refugees who crossed over from Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Tuesday that Moscow would not take them back.

Denmark is not the only country targeting refugee possessions. Switzerland has started taking valuables worth over 1,000 Swiss francs ($985), the German state of Baden-Württemberg secures valuables above 350 euros ($380), while other southern states have been reported to do the same.

“Most (refugees) have lost everything and yet this legislation appears to say that the few fortunate enough to have survived the trip to Denmark with their few remaining possessions haven't lost enough,” the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said, mirroring criticism from many organizations.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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