Updated: January 29, 2016 12:30:58 am
The Danish parliament’s passing of a controversial bill to seize refugees’ valuables to pay for their upkeep is perhaps a classic case of how not to “welcome” people who have already endured every conceivable ordeal in their flight from war, starvation and near-death, and traversed thousands of miles to dignify what’s left of their lives. Yet, the Danish government would argue that the problem is one of semantics, compounded by the insensitive phrasing of the law, whereby police would be able to confiscate valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (€1,340) to pay for said refugee’s housing and food. In fact, several EU states have similar laws and Danish citizens aren’t exempt either, as exemplified by unemployed Danes having to sell their valuables, above a certain benchmark, to claim welfare benefits. Lawmakers point out the Danish welfare state is based on the principle of everyone using up “their own” resources first. However, if it were a mere case of miscommunication by the government or misunderstanding by the rest of the world — which, including the UN, has roundly criticised Copenhagen — the original draft wouldn’t need to be modified to increase the worth of valuables asylum-seekers could keep.
While Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen has called the law the “most misunderstood” in Danish history, his Liberal Party has had to refute charges that Denmark was going to take “jewellery away”.
Comparisons have, predictably, been made to the Nazi seizure of valuables from European Jewry. But hyperbole apart, how does the government plan to distinguish jewellery of “sentimental value”, such as wedding rings that won’t be seized, from jewellery that isn’t?
Europe, undeniably, faces a crisis of mammoth proportions. The EU’s engine, Germany, is struggling to cope with the influx of refugees, whose daily numbers are closer to 4,000 rather than the official 2,000. Nevertheless, when Denmark complains of undeservedly getting a “dirty reputation”, it must remember compassion ranks above convenience.
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