Opinion: Danish government is confiscating dignity

 

After fleeing war-torn regions and embarking on gruelling journeys, newly arrived refugees seeking sanctuary in Denmark will be ordered to hand over valuables over 10,000 kroner, in order to pay for their stay.

By James Franklin Whitehead

Under the new bill, which has been sharply criticised by the UN, EU and numerous human rights organisations, the Danish authorities will seize cash exceeding 10,000 kroner (1,340 euros, $1,450), or items of the same value, to finance asylum centres.

The confiscation policy is part of a broader immigration bill aimed at dissuading migrants from coming to Denmark. Other parts of the bill include the delay of family reunifications for refugees by up to three years, as well as the shortening of temporary residence permits.

Along with the tightening of it borders both with Germany and Sweden, Denmark’s reputation as an open and welcoming country is eroding.

The proposals presented by the government are evidently aimed at conveying a message to make it ‘less attractive’ to seek asylum in Denmark, and is a deeply concerning response to humanitarian needs,” said a UN statement earlier this month, adding that the bill could “fuel fear and xenophobia”.

Danish Prime Minister Rasmussen had called it “the most misunderstood bill in Denmark’s history.” Integration Minster Inger Stojberg also defended the bill, stating that similar measures are in place for unemployed Danish citizens.

“With the change made now, you can in some instances see that asylum seekers are in a better position than people who have lived in Denmark their entire lives,” she told Ritzau news agency.

The comparison is a distortion. The people escaping Syria do so under the sounds of gunfire and violence, leaving behind former family homes reduced to burned-out concrete skeletons. One million people made it to Europe by sea, as thousands perished desperately trying to grasp at some sort of humane existence.

The seizure of valuables is not for economic reasons; financing asylum centres is not an issue. The reason for the tightening restrictions on refugees is political. With 70 percent of Danes ranking immigration as the top political concern, the government knows this move will win them domestic political points.

The new Danish immigration bill is part of a wider failure of the European Union to deal with the largest refugee crisis since the end of World War II.

The European Union’s relocation scheme proposed last September – in which EU members were designated quotas to relocate 160,000 people escaping war-torn regions – is failing. As of the first week in January, just 212 refugees have been relocated – that’s 0.17% of what was proposed.

Borders across Europe which have been lying dormant for decades are up again; the reintroduction of national border controls in much of the EU, including France, Germany and Austria, places a large question mark over the future of the Schengen area.

Now the Danish government are set on squeezing refugees for what they have – their possessions, cash and chances of seeing family members any time soon. They’re confiscating people’s dignity.

All species migrate in search for food and shelter; for survival. Too often we neglected these fundamental needs for short-term political gains.

It’s a cold day in Denmark.

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Denmark took in around 21,000 refugees last year – about 2 percent of the total that arrived in Europe – compared to 163,000 in Sweden and around 1.1 million in Germany, according to the Danish Refugee Council.

photo credits: Venstre, Henrik Bjerregrav