Danish govt defends plan to seize migrants' valuables

British artist Arabella Dorman in St James's Church, London, with her piece representing a capsized refugee boat. Migrant groups have expressed worry over anti-refugee policies.
British artist Arabella Dorman in St James's Church, London, with her piece representing a capsized refugee boat. Migrant groups have expressed worry over anti-refugee policies.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

COPENHAGEN • A Danish populist, anti-immigration party says a controversial plan to seize migrants' valuables and cash is intended to dissuade migrants from coming to Denmark and not aimed at raising money.

Under the Danish centre-right government's proposal, to be voted on in Parliament next month, items of personal significance, such as wedding rings and mobile phones, will be exempt while cash and other valuables worth more than 3,000 kroner (S$617) will be confiscated to help pay for their stay in the generous welfare state.

"The signal is important. Basically we are saying that if you want to come to Europe you should stay clear of Denmark because we have a lot of problems with migrants and... we don't need any more in Denmark," Mr Martin Henriksen of the Danish People's Party (DPP) told Agence France-Presse.

The centre-right minority government, which rules with the backing of the DPP in Parliament, has defended the Bill amid comparisons to Nazi Germany's seizing of gold and valuables from Jews and others during World War II.

"There is no reason to criticise, since it is already the case that if you as a Dane have valuables of more than 10,000 kroner, it may be required that this is sold before you can receive unemployment benefits," Integration Minister Inger Stojberg said last week.

The DPP said the government had based its Bill on DPP proposals.

Mr Imran Shah, a spokesman for Denmark's Islamic Society, said on Monday the DPP's strategy was "to try to push the boundary of what will be possible for a future apartheid society".

But Mr Henriksen insisted his party had no bad intentions. "This is just one small proposal in a slew of many proposals serving the goal of protecting our democracy, our country and our culture."

The proposal is the latest in a string of moves by Copenhagen to avoid the kind of refugee influx seen in neighbouring Sweden, where around 150,000 people had applied for asylum this year by the end of November compared with just 18,000 in Denmark.

Other measures have included shortening residence permits, delaying family reunifications and placing advertisements in Lebanese newspapers to deter migrants.

US President Barack Obama plans to host a United Nations summit meeting next year on the global migrant crisis and to spend his final year in office working to spur other countries and the private sector to contribute more humanitarian aid, his UN ambassador said on Monday.

"The list of refugees in need unfortunately continues to grow - at the same time the international community has been utterly unable to keep up," ambassador Samantha Power told reporters in New York on Monday.

The head of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said anti-migrant sentiment taking hold in a slew of nations was disturbing, dangerous and put people's lives at risk. Concern and suspicion about migrants is based on stereotypes, fear of national identity loss and a "post-9/11 security syndrome".

"We're very disturbed at the widespread anti-migrant sentiment that can lead to xenophobia and risks to migrants," Mr William Lacy Swing, director-general of the Geneva- based inter-governmental IOM told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview in New York.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2015, with the headline 'Danish govt defends plan to seize migrants' valuables'. Print Edition | Subscribe