Danish politicians have voted to let police seize valuables worth more than 10,000 kroner (€1,300) 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 politician abstained and 70 others were absent.
Amendments were made, including raising the value of items the asylum seekers can keep from 3,000 kroner (€400) to 10,000 kroner. 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.
Danish government spokesman Marcus Knuth says the bill has been misunderstood.
He said: "We are simply asking that if asylum seekers, in the rare case where they do come with enough means to pay for themselves, then following exactly the same rules as for Danish citizens on unemployment benefits - if you can pay for yourself then you should pay for yourself before the Danish welfare system does it."
Denmark received about 20,000 asylum seekers last year while its neighbours 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.”
Opponents criticised the government for tightening Denmark’s immigration laws and called for a common European solution to the continent’s immigration crisis.
“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.
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 (€910).
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 had 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.