Denmark's plan to seize migrants' valuables 'despicable': Human Rights Watch

A refugee tent camp in Thisted, northern Jutland, Denmark on Jan 13, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

ISTANBUL (AFP) - Legislation agreed in Denmark to seize the valuables of refugees in the hope of limiting the flow of migrants is "despicable", US-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday (Jan 27).

"I think it's despicable that Denmark and also in a sense Switzerland are moving to seize the last remaining assets of people, who by virtue of their movement and vulnerability tend to be impoverished and have very little on them," the executive director of HRW, Kenneth Roth, told a news conference in Istanbul.

Denmark's parliament on Tuesday adopted reforms aimed at dissuading migrants from seeking asylum by delaying family reunifications and allowing authorities to seize valuables to pay for the stay of migrants in asylum centres.

Meanwhile, Swiss law has since the 1990s required asylum seekers to contribute to the costs of hosting them in the wealthy Alpine country.

"Does a rich country like Denmark really need to strip the very assets of these desperate asylum seekers before providing them basic services?" asked Roth, who was presenting HRW's annual report in Istanbul.

"If Denmark wanted the asylum seekers to pay back, they would get them a job, which is what most asylum seekers want," he added.

He said the seizure plans appear "purely vindicative and purely an effort to send a signal 'don't you dare come to Denmark if you're an asylum seeker who has arrived to European Union'".

"That cold hearted response is not what we would expect from a wealthy European Union member," he added.

Some have likened the Danish proposals to the confiscation of gold and other valuables from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.

But Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen defended it as "the most misunderstood bill in Denmark's history."

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