“Welcome to Europe. Now gimmie that watch.”
That’s the greeting asylum seekers will get when they enter Denmark from now on thanks to a new law that will allow police to search refugees on arrival and confiscate anything worth more than 10,000 kroner.
The idea, apparently, is to help offset the cost of taking the migrants in by robbing them.
Denmark’s center-right government likens the new policy to how Danish welfare recipients are treated but Klaus Petersen, professor at the Centre for Welfare State Research, University of Southern Denmark says that’s not entirely accurate. “Danish welfare claimants have to give up their savings before they receive benefits – but not their valuables, unlike refugees,” Petersen told The Guardian. “A Danish citizen could be searched in an extreme case if the municipality has a suspicion of fraud, but you need court permission to do so [whereas] for refugees, you would not need a court permission,” he adds.
And while this may seem somewhat repugnant, Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen swears it’s all a big misunderstanding. “It’s the most misunderstood law” in Denmark’s history, he insists.
But it’s difficult to see where the “misunderstanding” is. You’re either confiscating refugees’ valuables or you aren’t and if you are, well, prepare for the Nazi comparisons. “Bent Melchior, the former chief rabbi of Denmark, said in December that the initial proposal appeared ‘like it had the character of what was actually in force during the Nazis’ persecution of minorities," WaPo writes, noting that “other commentators made similar comparisons.”
The confiscation law is part of a larger immigration bill which stipulates that authorities will allow refugees to keep certain valuable items that have "sentimental value" - like wedding rings.
As The Local notes, the 10,000 kroner threshold was initially jut 3,000 but was lifted in response to the Nazi comparisons. "Earlier this month the amount was raised from 3,000 kroner amid a public outcry and comparisons to Nazi Germany's seizing of gold and valuables from Jews and others during World War II," The Local writes. "After thorny negotiations, parliamentary backing for the proposal was secured a few days later by removing any upper limits on the value of items with a sentimental value."
Needless to say, having one's cash and valuables confiscated is a rather unpleasant experience and we imagine it might well get things off on the wrong foot when it comes to new arrivals' impression of the place they plan to call home. Those who feel particularly aggrieved might well resort to theft upon entering the country on the premise that they are simply taking back what was taken from them at the border.
Obviously, the real goal here is to deter migrants from coming to Denmark in the first place. It's clearly not realistic to think that confiscating cash and jewelry from refugees who very often arrive with little more than the shirt on their back will make a serious dent in the cost of taking care of the legions of asylum seekers flooding across the country's borders.
The bill contains other measures refugees might find unpalatable as well.
"Refugees granted a lower form of protection status under Danish law, meaning people fleeing indiscriminate violence rather than individual persecution, have to wait three years instead of one year before applying for family reunifications," The Local continues. "The waiting time has prompted allegations that Denmark will violate the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the UN Refugee Convention."
Denmark also toughened requirements for permanent residency applications.
"Our concern is that the new rule would seek to prevent the reunion of refugee families for up to three years," Claus Juul, senior legal adviser at Amnesty Denmark said. "The real objective of this law is stop Denmark from appearing as an attractive country to asylum seekers."
Perhaps Martin Henriksen, a spokesman for the anti-immigration Danish People's Party put it best when he said the folloiwng about the new legislation: "We are saying that if you want to come to Europe you should stay clear of Denmark."
Yes, "steer clear of Denmark" and also of Switzerland, where a similar law requires refugees to cough up anything they have worth more than $1,000.
This is just the latest example of what French economy minister Emmanuel Macron recently called dangerous "country-by-country" solutions to the refugee crisis. “We have a few weeks to concretely deliver our options... otherwise you have country-by-country solutions (and that is) the beginning of the dismantling for sure," he told an audience in Davos, referencing the end of Schengen as we know it.
And so, what began with dreams of passport free travel, a single currency, and a more unified European utopia has now devolved into a series of ad hoc attempts by individual countries to lockdown their borders and confiscate the belongings of those seeking asylum. Underscoring just how desperate the situation truly is, Austrian interior minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said simply,"Schengen is on the brink of collapse" after meeting with his counterparts in Amsterdam on Monday.
We close with the following assessment of Denmark's new policy towards asylum seekers via Pernille Skipper, an MP and legal affairs spokesperson for Enhedslisten, a left-wing Danish party:
"Morally it is a horrible way to treat people fleeing mass crimes, war, rapes. They are fleeing from war and how do we treat them? We take their jewellery.”