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.
Some critics have even likened the Danish proposals to the confiscation of gold and other valuables from Jews by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, who is currently a guest professor at the University of Art in Berlin, pulled an exhibition in Denmark in disgust.
But Germany actually has long established rules on confiscating refugees’ valuables which are stricter than those set out by the new Danish law.
For Matthias Höhn, chief whip for Die Linke (the Lefty Party) in the federal parliament, this is a “heartless” treatment of vulnerable people.
“Because refugees are denied legal ways into Europe, they become dependent on the dirty trade of smugglers – that means selling belongings and property for the expensive journey which comes at enormous risk to their lives,” Höhn told The Local
“Taking away their remaining money and last heirlooms is perhaps strictly legal, but it’s more than a bit heartless.”
In Bavaria – where the vast majority of refugees arrive in the country – cash and valuables can be confiscated with a value of over €750.
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 taken from them.
Meanwhile in North Rhine-Westphalia refugees are only allowed to have €200 in valuables before local authorities can start taking their possessions.
They 'must repay costs'
All three states are implementing federal laws, which require asylum seekers to use up their own resources before receiving state aid.
“If you apply for asylum here, you must use up your income and wealth before receiving aid,” Aydan Özoguz, the federal government's integration commissioner, recently told Bild newspaper.
“That includes, for example, family jewellery. Even if some prejudices persist – you don't have it any better as an asylum seeker as someone on unemployment benefit,” Özoguz added.
But, outside Die Linke, there were few critics of the practice inside Germany.
Opposition Green party MP Volker Beck told Der Tagesspiegel that it was right for asylum applicants to pay for services to the extent they could.
“Of course asylum seekers aren't in a better position than those on unemployment benefits,” Beck said.
“Asylum seekers must repay the costs of accommodation and care to the state.”