Swiss authorities on Friday rejected criticism over their practice of seizing cash from refugees, saying it's based on a decades-old law and only affects a small number of people.

A widely cited report Thursday by Swiss public broadcaster SRF, detailing how one Syrian man had to hand over more than half his family's money to police, has prompted criticism from refugee groups.

But a spokeswoman for the Swiss State Secretariat for Migration said the rule was neither new nor disproportionate.

"There's an article that's been in our asylum law for more than 20 years ... that if asylum seekers arrive in Switzerland, any assets above 1,000 Swiss francs ($996) can be taken off them," Lea Wertheimer said.

The measure affected just 112 out of 45,000 refugees last year, and generated 210,000 francs.

"Most asylum-seekers are penniless," she told The Associated Press, adding that jewelry and other personal items aren't taken away.

"The idea is that they can contribute in this way to the costs they generate in Switzerland," Wertheimer said.

The federal government gives 1,500 francs per refugee each month to local authorities to help pay for their upkeep, though the actual costs may be higher, she said.

A proposal to introduce a similar measure in Denmark will soon be put to a vote in the country's Parliament.