Denmark: We’ll take your valuables but not your family

Denmark has just passed asylum laws to give authorities the power to search refugees and migrants, and take their cash and valuables.

Under this mean-spirited new law, the Danish police will be able to search asylum seekers and seize what they think is worth more than £1,000.

When lawmakers have such disdain for people fleeing war and persecution as to dismiss them as a ‘bunch of migrants’ as David Cameron did today in PMQs, nasty laws like this all too frequently follow.

The Danish government claims this is simply aimed at treating those seeking asylum in the same way as citizens by expecting them to contribute to their own support rather than relying on state hand-outs.

In the UK, asylum-seekers are – like benefits claimants – required to disclose details of their financial resources; and very valuable assets may be taken into account in a decision not to provide support if it is assessed that the person can support themselves.

But what Denmark is proposing to do is very different. It is not simply making a reasonable assessment of whether people can support themselves, and if so, refusing to provide state support.

Instead, it is assessing whether people have valuable possessions, and if so just taking these from them. Anyone who approaches a welfare office and finds themselves searched and stripped of their belongings would have every right to be outraged.

The suggestion that what is being done is simply what other Danish citizens face does not stand up to scrutiny. In fact, it is a betrayal of our common humanity.

A dangerous development

The headlines have focused on this particularly hostile new law, but there are other – arguably even nastier – measures that have been introduced.

In particular, it will now be the law that many refugees must wait for three years after being granted asylum in Denmark before they can apply for their partners and children to join them – potentially stranding their loved ones in war zones, refugee camps and in the hands of smugglers.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees and others have warned that this may well breach refugees’ human right to respect for family life; and Denmark’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Not only does this risk breaching international human rights standards, but it is also a dangerous development because – as we have seen in the midst of refugee migration to and within Europe over several months – one factor compelling many people to turn to people smugglers and treacherous journeys across land and sea is their desperate hope of being reunited with family.

Creating safe and legal routes

Right now we’re backing an amendment to the Immigration Bill that would extend opportunities refugees to be reunited with family members here in the UK.

This would provide an urgently needed safe and legal route by which refugees can avoid the risks of travelling along smugglers’ routes.

Denmark’s new laws make it even more likely that adults and children will be driven to attempt such dangerous journeys because a safe and legal route to join refugee family members in that country is to be effectively taken away.

Family reunification + resettlement are legal pathways that provide protection to refugees: https://t.co/URFMy817vh pic.twitter.com/g6i9XAJQsL

— UN Refugee Agency (@Refugees) January 27, 2016

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Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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