This Country Just Seized $15,000 From A Group Of People Seeking Asylum

Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images.
Update: A controversial proposal that allows Danish authorities to take valuables from asylum-seekers has been enforced for the first time, The Guardian reports. Police reported seizing cash worth $15,979 from a group of five people who were caught using false passports at the Copenhagen airport. They all claimed asylum.

Update: January 26, 2016:
Denmark's parliament has approved the controversial proposal allowing officials to seize cash and valuables from asylum-seekers to help cover the cost of services provided to them. Under the revised proposal, those entering the country can only keep posessions valued under 10,000 kroner (about $1,450), the BBC reports. Supporters say the measure holds asylum-seekers to the same standards as unemployed residents, who must sell some assets if they want to qualify for government benefits, according to the BBC. Wedding rings and other sentimental possessions aren't subject to the requirement.

This story was originally published on January 14, 2016.

Imagine you've lost your job, your home, and most of your worldly possessions in hopes of escaping conflict and persecution in your community.

Now, imagine that after enduring a long, dangerous, and costly journey to safety, you're asked to hand over the few valuables you have left.

That's the heartbreaking price refugees may soon have to pay after arriving in Denmark. The government there is considering a proposal that would allow authorities to force asylum-seekers to hand over cash and valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner ($1,450) to help cover their living costs, the BBC and other news outlets have reported.

The proposed changes— the latest in a series of steps Denmark and other European nations have taken to stem the flow of people coming through its borders — has been blasted as a gross violation of international rules governing the treatment of refugees. Some have even reportedly compared the policy to those the Nazis imposed on Jews during the Holocaust, the BBC reported.

"Refugees have lost their homes and almost everything they possess. It beggars belief that somebody would want to strip them away from the little they have managed to salvage from their lives," William Spindler, a spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told the BBC. "Refugees need and deserve compassion, understanding, respect and solidarity."

An analysis of the legislation by the UNHCR called the proposals "deeply concerning response to humanitarian needs." Such changes, the analysis found, could "fuel fear, xenophobia and similar restrictions that would reduce – rather than expand - the asylum space globally and put refugees in need at life-threatening risks."

Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has defended the legislation as "probably the most misunderstood proposal in the history of Denmark."

“Looking at the debate, you almost get the impression that we are going to turn people upside down to see if we can shake the last coin out of their pockets. That is completely distorted and wrong," he was quoted as saying by Danish newspaper Politiken, according to The New York Times.

Denmark, which reportedly received about 21,000 requests for asylum in 2015, is one of many European countries grappling with an influx of migrants and refugees.

The parliament is expected to vote on the bill before the end of the month. While it is expected to pass, according to The Times, some politicians are continuing to speak out against the idea.

“Even with the latest changes to the bill, the legislation still paints a bad image of Denmark in the international community, and I don’t recognize myself or the Danish people in this bill,” Jens Rohde, a Danish member of the European Parliament, told The Times. “The bill is less horrible than before, but still undignified.”

Refinery29 is committed to telling the human story behind the headlines of the Syrian refugee crisis. To read the story of three Syrian women forced to flee violence and civil war, and how they have rebuilt their lives in Turkey, read "Daughters of Paradise" here. For full coverage of the Syrian refugee crisis, read more here.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the timeframe for voting on the proposal. Refinery29 regrets the error.

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