Denmark has suffered a brutal national shaming for its new law allowing refugees’ valuables to be confiscated – but Sweden has had similar rules in place for more than two decades.
The new Danish legislation passed on Tuesday, which would allow authorities to confiscate valuables worth more than 10,000 Danish Krone (€1,340) from refugees, was described as despicable by US-based rights watchdog Human Rights Watch (HRW).
“Does a rich country like Denmark really need to strip the very assets of these desperate asylum seekers before providing them basic services?” HRW’s executive director Kenneth Roth asked in a press conference in Istanbul on Wednesday.
But Sweden has since 1994 been asking refugees who arrive with assets or show signs of having an income to contribute money for their food and accommodation.
Under the Law on the Reception of Asylum Seekers and Others, Sweden’s Migration Agency is empowered to request that refugees contribute “reasonable compensation” for the cost of their stay.
“Anyone who has income from employment, or who have other income or own assets and have accommodation in a reception centre shall pay a reasonable amount as compensation to the Migration Agency,” the law reads.
“When the diet is included in the accommodation at a time to be reasonable compensation is also paid for this.”
A spokesman for Sweden’s Migration Agency confirmed that the law was in place.
“We do have a law that if you have money you should pay for your living costs,” Ulrika Langels told The Local.
Unlike in Denmark, there is no specified lower limit on how much income refugees need to have before they can be asked to pay, meaning the law is arguably stricter.
But Langels said that she did not believe the clause was widely applied in practice.
“I think that no one pays. Most people come and say that they don’t have any money, and there’s no way for us to check up on that and call international banks.”
Caspian Rehbinder, project leader at Migro, a centre-Right pro-immigration think tank, said that it would be a mistake to “confuse” the Swedish rules to the Danish law.
“The Danish law lets the police search immigrants and confiscate their assets without anything in return, while the Swedish law simply states that if you live in the Migration Board’s accommodation and have income, you shall pay a reasonable amount,” he said.
“The Danish law is completely arbitrary and lets the police take money or assets even in cases where the migrant pays for his or her costs completely.”
In addition, the Swedish law concerns only food and accommodation, he added, while the Danish law also expects migrants to pay the costs of processing their application.
As those in European countries examine their own laws in the wake of the Danish government passing its controversial new measures, it has become increasingly clear that several countries, including Norway, Germany, the UK and Switzerland have laws that are at least comparable on their statutes.
In Bavaria – where the vast majority of refugees arrive in Germany – cash and valuables are confiscated with a value of over €750. As in Denmark, if a refugee refuses to be searched the police are brought in.
A spokesperson for the Bavarian social ministry confirmed to The Local that upon arrival “refugees are searched for documents, valuables and money.”
“When we suspect that the an asylum seeker is holding large sums and does not agree to be searched, the police are called in.”
The spokesperson explained that valuables taken from refugees are put into the state budget and go towards financing the costs of housing refugees, so that “available assets are used before the state raises extra taxes.”
In the neighbouring southern state of Baden-Württemberg the rules are even stricter. There, refugees can have valuables worth more than €350 (2,600 kroner) taken from them.
Meanwhile in North Rhine-Westphalia refugees are only allowed to have €200 (1,500 kroner) in valuables before local authorities start taking their possessions.
The Norwegian Directorate of Immigration (UDI), meanwhile, has a rule that asylum seekers who enter the country with more than 5,000 Norwegian kroner risk losing access to social benefits.
“If you just look at the value limit, the Norwegian rules are without a doubt more strict than the Danish law,” lawyer Cecile Schjatvet told NRK.
Switzerland has since the 1990s required asylum seekers to contribute to the costs of hosting them in the wealthy Alpine country.