Views on the News: Denmark and refugees
Last Tuesday, Denmark’s government passed a bill allowing police to search refugees entering Denmark and confiscate their valuables in order to offset the financial burden of an influx of refugees. Originally, the bill allowed refugees to keep belongings totaling 3,000 Danish crowns — nearly 437 U.S. dollars — but after complaints from human rights organizations, Danish Parliament raised the sum to 10,000 crowns — approximately 1,450 U.S. dollars. The bill exempts items of sentimental value. What do you think of this new law, and should the U.S. adopt a similar tactic if it accepts refugees?
Prof. Jytte Klausen (POL)
The Danish legislation authorizing confiscation of refugees’ jewelry, cash, and iPads and other valuables has rightly been condemned. The law is ugly — and stupid. Not all of the people streaming into Europe are deserving of asylum. Gangs, terrorists, young men looking to avoid conscription into the Afghan army, and many others who do not qualify as refugees, are known to have followed in the slipstream of the thousands of desperate Syrians. But confiscating jewelry and heirlooms from fleeing families punishes those most deserving of refuge. The ostensible purpose is to make refugees pay for the costs of their dependency on public support. But giving refugees the right to work is a far more effective way of recovering costs. The Danish government and the supporting Social Democratic party are giving in to the basest of instincts by dehumanizing people who have already lost everything. The sad truth is that the real purpose of the law is deterrence: “Don’t come here. We are mean.” This is not the Denmark I recognize. The country has been torn apart by this act.
Prof. Jytte Klausen (POL) is the Lawrence A. Wien Professor of International Cooperation who specializes in domestic terrorism, Islam in the West, immigration, social cohesion and Europe.
Prof. Mari Fitzduff (POL)
Who is to be responsible for refugees’ upkeep in Denmark ? Two factors are important. The first is compassion, and the second is fairness. Refugees will need time to settle in, find housing, learn Danish, retrain, and establish themselves as working citizens. Assets should not be taken into account for at least 6 months, which will give many time to settle. After that they should follow the rules for other citizens/residents as it generally pertains in Europe where savings/assets are considered before payment of living benefits e.g. in the UK if you have $9,000 savings/assets your living benefits decrease accordingly. Many governments are struggling with right wing groups in their countries who are hostile to the refugees. If the refugees are seen to get more than their citizens, it may make it impossible for the government to keep accepting them. Also, in many European countries, including Denmark, the state will provide free health, pre-schools, education, housing benefits and a living allowance to those who are unemployed so all basic needs will be taken care of until they find work.
Prof. George Hall (ECON)
This plan is harebrained and cruel. It is a tax rate of 100 percent above 10,000 crowns. You don’t need to be a rabid supply-sider to recognize that the government will not raise much revenue from a 100 percent tax rate. The Danish government is simply encouraging evasion. Further, even if the authorities do succeed in confiscating wealth, it is hard to see why capping the wealth of the most vulnerable members of society is good public policy. These refugees are going to need their own wealth to rebuild their lives and to weather the inevitable bad shocks that are a part of life. Instead of encouraging refugees to become self-sufficient, this policy will simply force them onto the public dole. That is the harebrained part. Kicking people when they are down is cruel.
Prof. George Hall (ECON) is a department chair in economics in the International Business School.
Prof. Kristen Lucken (IGS)
With the number of asylees in Denmark tripling since 2013, these policies appear to be a bold circumnavigation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and a clever attempt to create an invisible border within the Schengen zone. Would-be asylees from Syria, Iraq and North Africa now must turn over assets exceeding 10,000 kroner (approx. $1500) and move to rural refugee centers where pork is now featured on the menu. These policies conjure up scenes from “Oliver Twist” wherein the “Artful Dodger” picks pockets of the poor rather than those of the wealthy. Why the harsh stance towards asylees? Some fear the Danish welfare state will be strained by the deluge of asylum seekers and economic migrants flooding the nation. Meanwhile, past acts of terror on Danish soil — some as recent as Feb. 14, 2015 — have diluted humanitarian goodwill once extended to refugees. Sadly, these new policies exemplify a rampant nativist sentiment spreading across Europe aimed at a growing Muslim population that is increasingly desperate and willing to risk everything for safety and a chance to thrive.
Prof. Kristen Lucken (IGS) is a lecturer in International and Global Studies, Religious Studies and Sociology. She specializes in immigration as well as religious and ethnic identity.
Prof. Gordon Fellman (SOC)
I do not understand what the Danes are doing, except perhaps finding a way to limit severely the number of Syrian refugees they'll admit. People fleeing horror need not be asked to buy their way to safety. If the proposal is actually implemented, it will assure a more or less middle class sort of refugee, won't it? So compassion and kindness will be based not on human tragedies and needs but on social class position. The US should take in many thousands of Syrian refugees. With no means tests. No, we did not play a role in the start of the Syrian crisis, but we have certainly played a confused role in who of the contending factions we support and why. Parties in the US make money off death (war, e.g.), not off peace. That is a major reason we support war far oftener than peace.
Dr. Gordon Fellman (SOC) is the chair of the Peace, Conflict and Coexistence Studies program.
Prof. George Ross (SOC)
Being a child of economic migrants to the USA and a descendant of earlier political refugees, my thinking on this is marked. The proposed Danish law is unnecessarily harsh, although imposing some limits on the importation of substantial wealth by asylum seekers may be justifiable in certain circumstances. We should not forget that one motivation of the Danish proposal is to keep as many asylum seekers out of Denmark as possible, however. Behind this is the increase in the political strength of right-wing xenophobic parties, groups, and opinions across Europe. And one should also never forget the huge increases in asylum seeking and migration more generally, that Europe now faces because of the terrifying situations in the Middle East and elsewhere that amount to a humanitarian emergency on a scale that would challenge societies anywhere. In particular, it has become a dangerous problem within the EU because its members cannot agree about how to respond, with the risk of shutting down the open borders that have been one of the great EU’s achievements. Should the US adopt a similar law? This gets us a bit ahead of ourselves in the midst of an election campaign in which rampant anti-immigrant hysteria is the stock in trade of several candidates, and American silence on how to respond to the larger issues of this humanitarian crisis has been deafening.
Prof. George Ross (SOC) is a former Brandeis Professor Emeritus of Labor and Social Thought. He specializes in European integration as well as European politics and social policy.