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Danish Government Debates Controversial Seizure Law Aimed At Migrants


Let's travel to a country whose leaders want migrants to go elsewhere. Denmark's parliament is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill aimed at migrants. Among other things, it calls for ceasing cash and valuables from asylum-seekers as they enter the country. The bill sponsors say it's to defray the costs of accommodating them. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering this story. And, Soraya, where are you exactly?

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: I'm in eastern Denmark in a city called Elsinore, which is famous for being the place where "Hamlet" takes place. But today it's better known for housing asylum-seekers, of which there are about 20,000 across Denmark that came last year.

INSKEEP: Which is a lot of people, granted, but a lot less than other countries in Europe have accepted over the past year. So what makes Danes so worried?

NELSON: Well, you have to remember Denmark is wedged between Sweden and Germany. And both of those countries, which are much larger, have basically extended an open welcome to refugees, which they're now regretting to some extent because so many have been coming. And so what Denmark is worried about is that these asylum-seekers are not going to be allowed to go to Sweden or they're going to be made to leave Germany and they're going to end up in Denmark, which is a place that has a very rich welfare system. And there are a lot of concerns that these migrants and asylum-seekers who are coming are going to overwhelm the system and cause it to collapse.

INSKEEP: So what are people saying about this legislation that would confiscate the assets of asylum-seekers?

NELSON: Well, it's the latest in a flurry of bills. And the controversial element, as you mentioned, is this confiscation or seizure. And it's aimed at those migrants or asylum-seekers who are coming with more than $1,450 in their pocket. And the idea is to take some of that money to help defray the cost of their stay. But the bill is triggering a lot of criticism, both in Denmark and abroad, and of course comparisons to what the Nazis did. Marcus Knuth is a Danish Parliament member and government spokesman on immigration and integration.


MARCUS KNUTH: I think it's a highly unfair criticism because the fact that we go through refugees bags and so is already taking place in most European countries because, for security reasons, the authorities need to determine where you're from, what travel papers do you have and so on.

NELSON: He says his government isn't really expecting to recoup what it spends on refugees, nor are the police going to be taking any kind of jewelry or sentimental items from asylum-seekers. But what they are hoping is that the word of this will spread to Lebanon, to Turkey, other places where asylum-seekers or would-be asylum-seekers are gathered and perhaps are thinking about coming to Denmark.

INSKEEP: Suppose that some people do still seek asylum in Denmark, what would this legislation mean for them?

NELSON: Well, it makes it really tough for these newcomers to actually stay for any length of time. Danish-Syrian anesthesiologist Haifaa Awad, who works with refugees here and in Syria, says what's even more worrying to her is how long refugees will have to wait to get their families to Denmark and out of harm's way.

HAIFAA AWAD: My uncle had his twin daughters saved out from an area that was heavily bombed in Syria and got them and his wife out of there and was reunificated with them after eight months. But if you were to seek asylum now in Denmark, he would actually have to wait three years to get his daughters and wife out of the bombed Syria.

NELSON: She says that the measure is only going to compound the problems with integration that are fueling Danish fears and xenophobia in the first place.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Denmark. Thanks very much.

NELSON: You're welcome, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at NPR.org. From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.
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