In Europe, the various governments are responding in ways that are the most drastic yet as they cope with the biggest crisis since the Second World War. A vote in the Danish parliament on January 26 that allows authorities to seize refugees’ assets came as Switzerland and southern Germany followed similar moves. In addition, leaders of central European nations are seeking to seal their borders with Balkan countries such as Croatia, Greece and Serbia. This could trap thousands of refugees in Greece.
The new law in Denmark allows police to search refugees upon arrival in-country. Police would be enabled to confiscate any non-essential belongings valued at more than 10,000 kroner ($1455). This is intended to cover part of the cost of hosting the refugees in the tiny European country.
Spokesmen for the United Nations said that the move by Denmark is regrettable.
Human rights activists were critical of the laws that will also prevent refugees from applying for family reunification. Refugees from Syria will be accorded only one year of protection. While Danes are expected by the government to exhaust their own savings before claiming benefits, besides rare exceptions police do not have the authority to search Danish welfare claimants. Danish welfare claimants can be searched by authorities only if suspected of fraud.
Danish government spokesman Marcus Knuth said this month that it is “ludicrous” to compare the new law to the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust, since similar laws apply to Danish citizens receiving benefits. “We’re simply applying the same rules we apply to Danish citizens who wish to take money from the Danish government,” he said. During the Second World War, Denmark save more members of the country’s Jewish population than other European countries.
Klaus Petersen, a professor at the Centre for Welfare State Research near Odense, confirmed that Danish welfare claimants have to give up their savings before they receive benefits – but not their valuables, unlike refugees. They will also not be searched, except in rare circumstances.
Speaking for the UN refugee agency, Zoran Stevanović said, “Denmark has traditionally been an inspiration to others for setting human rights standards. However, rather than showing and providing solidarity and sanctuary, Denmark is focusing on developing and implementing individual and restrictive responses… We are particularly concerned by reduced social benefits and restricted access to family reunification. We are also concerned that refugees with temporary protection are only allowed to reside in Denmark for one year and yet are only able to apply for family reunification after three years.”
According to the Guardian newspaper of the UK, one Afghani woman in Denmark wept at the news and said she would tell others contemplating the trek, “I would tell them: if there is any chance you can stay where you are, then don’t come here to Europe, especially to Denmark.“
Divorce: European style
The leaders of Slovakia and Croatia have condemned the inability of the Greek government to turn away the hundreds of thousands of refugees passing through to destinations in northern European countries. They both called for better border controls to prevent migrants from passing through Greece. This came on the day after the interior ministers of the European Union countries verified that they may suspend the Schengen accord that allows persons to travel between member countries without a visa.
Greek politicians are outraged because this could mean that hundreds of thousands of foreign nationals will remain in now in one of the poorest countries in Europe. Greece is already struggling with some of the highest rates of unemployment in memory, while extremist political parties such as New Dawn draw violent nationalists into their numbers. The alternate Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Xydakis said the idea floated by the EU is “hysterical.” Warning that it may lead to the break-up of the EU, Xydakis said “If every country raises a fence, we return to the cold war period and the iron curtain. This isn’t EU integration – this is EU fragmentation.”
While other EU countries are demanding strict measures by the Greek government, Xydakis said the only way of halting the thousands of migrants is to fire on them. He said that Greece is not willing to shoot the refugees, even if it means being surrounded by an EU iron curtain. “If Europe is to put Greece in a deep humanitarian crisis, let’s see it [happen],” he said in an interview with the Guardian on Tuesday. “We are in the sixth year of a depression and [have] unemployment of 25% … But if our colleagues and partners in the EU think that we have to let people drown or sink their boats, we can’t do that. Maybe we will suffer, but we will manage.”
It appears that an agreement among the EU partners to confront the crisis is more distant than ever. The UN Secretary General’s Special Representative for International Migration Peter Sutherland said that the likelihood of a common European approach is receding, even though “such a common approach is indispensable to finding any solutions.”
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