Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“Something rotten in the state of Denmark,”

Shame on the Danes. The Danish parliament approves plan to seize cash and valuables from refugees. Under the new Danish law, police will be allowed to search asylum seekers on arrival in the country and confiscate any non-essential items worth more than 10,000 kroner (£1,000) that have no sentimental value to their owner. The UN described the development as concerning and regrettable that will “fuel fear and xenophobia.”  A regional spokesman for the UN refugee agency, Zoran Stevanović, said: “Denmark has traditionally been an inspiration to others for setting human rights standards. However, rather than showing and providing solidarity and sanctuary, Denmark is focusing on developing and implementing individual and restrictive responses. UNHCR regrets that Denmark is introducing restrictions to its asylum policy rather than focusing on building and promoting a fair distribution of asylum seekers within all countries in the EU. The law introduces restrictive measures on asylum seekers that increasingly hinder their ability to apply for asylum in Denmark. We are particularly concerned by reduced social benefits and restricted access to family reunification. We are also concerned that refugees with temporary protection are only allowed to reside in Denmark for one year and yet are only able to apply for family reunification after three years.”

Switzerland has also been criticised by a refugee group for seizing assets from some 100 people in 2015. Under Swiss rules, asylum seekers have to hand over assets above $1,000 (£700; €900)

The prospect of refugees having possessions seized has drawn comparisons to the confiscation of valuables from Jews during World War Two. Denmark’s government said the procedure is intended to cover the cost of each asylum seeker’s treatment by the state, and are applying the same principle as they do on Danish citizens on welfare. Yet police do not have the right to search Danish welfare claimants. Klaus Petersen, a professor at the Centre for Welfare State Research near Odense, confirmed that Danish welfare claimants have to give up their savings before they receive benefits – but not their valuables, unlike refugees. They will also not be searched, except in rare circumstances. “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. For refugees, you would not need a court permission.” Many Danes also have unemployment insurance that saves them having to sell assets

Jean Claude Mangomba, a 48-year-old English teacher and former army officer, fled Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo after he was arrested for supporting a priest who opposed the Congolese regime. “Most people are fleeing war, they are running away, and when they flee they take with them all that they can. That doesn’t make them wealthy or criminals,” he said. “And if they bring money with them, it will help Denmark. They will exchange the money into Danish kroner and spend it here. So why does the Danish government want to take this money away from them, take away their valuable objects? It makes no sense. The new law is very bad, really they just want to send us back. I didn’t choose to come here, I came here suddenly, I fled, I was lucky to get out, I was desperate. I have not seen my wife and three children for three years. With the new law, it will take many more years before I can see them again. I am losing hope. The asylum system here kills people slowly.”

Jonas Christoffersen, the director of the Danish Institute for Human Rights, told Al Jazeera: “The right of refugees to be reunited with their family is protected by numerous international conventions ratified by Denmark. We believe the government is overstepping international law by implementing this bill.”

Pernille Skipper, a member of parliament and the legal affairs spokesperson for Enhedslisten, a left Danish party, said: “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.”

Zohra, 21, from Afghanistan, said: “People are not coming here just for fun, they have enormous problems at home. When I decided to flee Afghanistan, I didn’t chose a country to go to because it’s nice or rich, I just came here to be safe, to live. We have only a little money, but we need it to live, to start a new life with that money.”

A spokesman for UN chief Ban Ki-moon criticised the decision, saying refugees deserved compassion. "People who have suffered tremendously, who have escaped war and conflict, who've literally walked hundreds of kilometres if not more and put their lives at risk by crossing the Mediterranean should be treated with compassion and respect, and within their full rights as refugees," said Stephane Dujarric.

Amnesty International regional director John Dalhuisen described the vote as "mean spirited". "This is a sad reflection of how far Denmark has strayed from its historic support of international norms enshrined in the Refugee Convention," he said. Amnesty International said the country had started a “race to the bottom” as support for refugees continues to wane across Europe. “To prolong the suffering of vulnerable people who have been ripped apart from their families by conflict or persecution is plain wrong," continued John Dalhuisen.

Andreas Kamm, of the Danish Refugee Council, said they were concerned about the new limitations on family reunification. "It hampers the integration process for those who already arrived and it leaves alone those who are back in the region, as vulnerable groups," he said. "It's very worrying and it's very inhumane."

Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, wrote to Denmark’s immigration minister to oppose the property seizures. “I believe that such a measure could amount to an infringement of the human dignity of the persons concerned,” he said.

We should also remember that Denmark was part of the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq therefore can be held directly accountable for the chaos and the ensuing refugee crises in these countries. 

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