Column: 70 Danish parliament members skip refugee vote

Denmark's Minister of Integration from the Liberal Party Inger Stoejberg sits in Parliament, in Copenhagen on Tuesday Jan. 26, 2016. Denmark's Parliament is expected to vote allow police seizing valuables worth more than $1,500 from asylum-seekers to help cover their housing and food costs while their cases were being processed. (Peter Hove Olesen/ POLFOTO via AP)

Denmark has just recently passed a controversial bill allowing police to seize asylum-seekers’ cash and valuables. After three hours of debate, the bill was adopted 81 votes to 27. The curious thing about this entire event is that 70 parliament members who typically vote were absent. The opposing party says that this is a symbolic move to scare refugees away. Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen says that this is one of the most misunderstood bills in the Denmark's history. Given the confusion and controversy behind it, one would think that there would be a near perfect attendance when this bill was introduced; however, this issue goes unacknowledged by parliament.

The original proposal contains a threshold of 3000 kroner of cash and any tangible assets of considerable value. This was met with international criticism. Meanwhile, the refugees are supposedly allowed to keep anything of sentimental value. However, the definition of sentimental value remains vague. Wedding rings are the only example provided. This raises the question, how does one prove that something is of sentimental value? How will the situation be handled if there's not enough evidence of said sentimental value? These points have yet to be clarified in the bill that is introduced. Those in the Danish government who support such measures maintain that the seizing of such assets is solely intended to cover cost for food and lodging; however, there is no set quantity of how much of assets can be seized. All that there is maintained is the amount of valuables the refugee will be left with.  

This bill also includes several other measures, one of which is to increase the waiting period before refugees can apply for the family to join them from one year to three years. This legislation also allows officials to reconsider "integration potential” and resettlement cases. This allows the government to cut temporary residency to two years and increase administrative fees. The transparency of this move to slow down the volume of refugees is substantiated by the whole-hearted support of the Danish right-wing party that has often decried open immigration policies in support of a closed border. This has been a trend across Europe, most notably in Sweden, according to a CNN report.

There are three outcomes in aiding refugees that have crossed the international border and have entered the country from which they seek asylum, Chris George, Executive Director of Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services in New Haven, stated during his lecture last night regarding the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees. The first is when refugees are registered by UNHCR, then stay in refugee camps. Then they wait many years for the crisis to subside before returning home.

“Most refugees want to voluntarily repatriate,” George said.

The second outcome is integration into country they fled to. Resettlement is the third long term option. This involves interviewing people to see if they're refugees, a rigorous vetting process, then inviting them to live in their non-native country.

Many parts of this bill have been heavily criticized throughout Europe and, frankly, throughout the world. Denmark is being accused of violating European Convention on Human Rights. The right of refugees to be reunited with their families is protected by numerous international conventions ratified by Denmark according to Jonas Kristofferson, the director of the Danish Institute of human rights according to the Independent.

When Danish government employees are asked about possible human rights violations, especially when talking about parts of the bill that stop refugees from being allowed to petition their families to join them in the country for an increased amount of time, these employees defend their actions by citing that when human rights and freedom of movement principles were created it was in a time where global situations were different from the current climate. When there is a group of people that experience gross violations of human rights and cannot find support from their native country, then the asylum they seek is neither tempered by time nor time period. An individual’s right to life is one thing that has remained constant over the years, despite the changing contexts in which people flee from. 


Jesseba Fernando is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at jesseba.fernando@uconn.edu.