Denmark approves law letting police seize valuables from refugees

Denmark's Parliament approved a controversial law Tuesday allowing police to seize valuables worth more than $1,500 from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases were being processed.

The law excludes items of sentimental value, such as wedding rings and family portraits, but it has been met with criticism from human rights organizations.

"Most (refugees) have lost everything and yet this legislation appears to say that the few fortunate enough to have survived the trip to Denmark with their few remaining possessions haven't lost enough," the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said, according to Reuters.

"This is a symbolic move to scare people away" from seeking asylum in Denmark, added Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of the opposition left Red-Green Alliance that opposed the law.

After more than three hours of debate, the minority Liberal Party government's bill was adopted in a 81-27 vote, with the support of the opposition Social Democrats and the anti-immigration Danish People's Party — Denmark's two largest parties. One lawmaker abstained and 70 others were absent.

Amendments were made to the initial proposal, including raising the value of items the asylum-seekers can keep from 3,000 kroner ($440) to 10,000 kroner ($1,500). That brings it in line with welfare rules for Danes, who must sell assets worth more than 10,000 kroner before they can receive social benefits.

Denmark received about 20,000 asylum-seekers last year while neighboring Germany got 1.1 million and Sweden 163,000.

"We are talking about a real exodus," said Martin Henriksen, immigration spokesman for the populist Danish People's Party. "More needs to be done: we need more border controls. We need tighter immigration rules."

Denmark isn’t the only country targeting items held by refugees, as Switzerland has started taking away valuables worth more than $985, Reuters reports. The German state of Baden-Württemberg takes valuables more than $380, and other southern states are reported to do the same.

Tuesday’s bill was part of a raft of measures that included extending from one year to three the period that family members must wait before they can join a refugee in Denmark. Denmark already tightened its immigration laws last year, reducing benefits for asylum-seekers, shortening temporary residence permits and stepping up efforts to deport those whose applications are rejected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.