COPENHAGEN — A former chief rabbi of Denmark has criticized the government for its handling of a plan for police to search asylum seekers’ luggage for valuables and cash that prompted international outrage and drew comparisons to Nazi Germany.
Rabbi Bent Melchior said the government partly had itself to blame for coming under criticism since it had not immediately made clear that items of personal significance would be exempt from the searches.
The initial proposal looked “like it had the character of what was actually in force during the Nazis’ persecution of minorities,” Melchior told news agency Ritzau.
The Danish government on Friday defended the plan, which calls for cash amounts over 3,000 kroner ($435 or 400 euros) to be confiscated, while items of personal significance, such as wedding rings and mobile phones will be exempt.
The plans have sparked global ire, especially in the US, where The Washington Post on Thursday said confiscating jewelry from refugees had “a particularly bitter connotation in Europe,” where the Nazis seized gold and valuables from Jews and others during World War II.
“I can see that some foreign media are pouring scorn over [the fact] that we in the future may withdraw asylum-seekers’ valuables and demand that they should pay for their stay in asylum centers themselves,” Danish Integration Minister Inger Stojberg wrote on Facebook.
“There is no reason to criticize, since it is already the case that if you as a Dane have valuables for more than 10,000 kroner ($1,450 or 1,340 euros) it may be required that this is sold before you can receive unemployment benefits,” she added.
Stojberg, an immigration hardliner of the ruling right-wing Venstre party, added that “in Denmark you have to try for yourself if you can.”
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen, whose government rules with the backing of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party (DPP) in parliament, accused the media of painting “an incorrect picture of Denmark.”
Many Americans simply do not understand how generous the Danish welfare state is, he told Danish journalists in Brussels, according to the daily Politiken.
“It is in that context you should understand that we in Denmark say that before you get these welfare benefits you must, if you have a fortune, pay yourself,” he said.
An online petition in Denmark against the bill, which will be debated in parliament in January, had on Friday garnered over 6,000 signatures.
Compared to neighboring Sweden, Denmark has seen a relatively modest rise in asylum applications this year, after shortening residence permits, delaying family reunifications and placing adverts in Lebanese newspapers aimed at discouraging migrants.
The number of asylum claims registered in the country this year stood at around 18,000 by the end of November, compared to around 150,000 in Sweden.
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