COPENHAGEN, DENMARK(AP) — Danish lawmakers voted Tuesday to let police seize valuables worth more than $1,500 from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases are being processed.
After more than three hours of debate, the minority Liberal Party government's bill was adopted in an 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, 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, one of the highest rates per capita in the EU. "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."
Stephane Dujarric, spokesman for the U.N. secretary-general, criticized Denmark, saying people who make the effort to reach Europe "should be treated with compassion and respect" and with full rights as refugees.
Two small centrist parties and two left-leaning groups opposed the law and attacked the government for tightening Denmark's immigration laws. "This is a symbolic move to scare people away" from seeking asylum in Denmark, said Johanne Schmidt-Nielsen of the opposition left Red-Green Alliance that opposed the law. Her party colleague Henning Hyllested called the law "sickly nationalism."
"I don't think anyone who comes here has 10,000 kroner, because if I had 10,000 kroner I wouldn't be here," said Feraidoon Ferogh, a 24-year-old asylum seeker from Afghanistan. Denmark is not the only country taking such action. Some German states do take funds from refugees and Switzerland requires asylum-seekers to hand over cash of more than 1,000 francs ($996).
The 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.
Associated Press reporters Cara Anna in New York and David Keyton in Copenhagen contributed to this report.