Is Scandinavia the most tolerant and progressive place on Earth? New rules mean that asylum seekers arriving in Denmark could have valuables and other assets worth more than 1,340 euros confiscated in order to cover their housing and food costs while their applications are being processed. The legal changes also mean that asylum seekers will have to wait three years before their relatives can join them.
Whilst the move has been controversial, there have been similar schemes in place in other European countries, including Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands. Objects of sentimental value, such as wedding rings, are exempt from confiscation.
Scandinavian countries are struggling to cope with a massive influx of refugees since the crisis began. Sweden alone received more than 160,000 asylum seekers in 2015, more than any other EU state per capita. Denmark, Norway, and Finland have likewise been overwhelmed by the number of people seeking asylum.
Is confiscating the assets of asylum seekers in order to pay for their housing and upkeep a sensible policy? Or is it an example of populist politics, designed to send a message and encourage refugees to stay away?
To get a response, we spoke to Danish Social Democrat MEP Jeppe Kofod. What did he have to say?
First of all, any refugee coming to Denmark, regardless of how rich or poor they are, will be provided with free healthcare like Danish citizens. They will be treated equally, they will be provided with free access to education, from primary school to the highest university level… Nobody is being asked to pay for healthcare, unlike other countries.
The only thing they can be asked to pay for – if they have assets – is their own housing and food. And that principle goes for Danes as well. And it’s actually with the same threshold, so if refugees have more than 1300 euros in assets then they will be asked to pay for their own housing and food – not healthcare or schools, just housing and food – while they are applying for asylum in Denmark. And the same goes for Danes without jobs or Danes who need direct financial support from the government, they also have the same threshold: 1300 euros. If they have more assets than that, they cannot get help from the Danish state, and the same goes for refugees.
So, there’s no discrimination, there’s an equal treatment and I think it’s very important that there’s equal treatment. And if you look in the case of Denmark, if you’re a family of four with two adults and two kids, then you need to have more than 5000 euros in money and assets before you can be asked to pay for your housing or food. In many other countries, such as Germany and Switzerland, the threshold is much lower. So, what we did in Denmark is to say that the same principles should apply to refugees as well as Danes, and thereby ensuring the egalitarian welfare state is for all.
We also had a comment sent in by Vinko, arguing that Scandinavian countries are renowned as some of the most tolerant and progressive on Earth. Yet many of these countries have seen recent victories by far-right, nationalist, populist political parties and movements. Why is the far-right on the rise in Scandinavia?
We put this question to Jeppe Kofod:
Well, it’s because of the situation globally, with a lot of refugees today. There are around 16 million refugees in the world, and some of them are coming to Scandinavia exactly because those countries are perceived, rightly so, as very generous welfare states that will provide a lot services for free for their citizens and inhabitants. Regardless of your income you get free healthcare, education, elderly care, and many other services that in other countries you are asked to pay for. So, naturally, that attracts people.
We see that during this crisis now with the refugees, a large proportion of them are coming to Northern Europe and Scandinavia, and the problem is that because we are such a generous welfare state we have a lot of costs when people come into our countries because we have to provide all the services for free. We don’t want to treat our inhabitants differently, regardless of whether they’re a Dane or a refugee, so we treat them equally. But that is why Denmark is number two last year after Sweden if you look at the share of GDP we use for refugees. And therefore we have a limit on how many we can take.
And, of course, the populist parties are saying that the huge number of refugees are in a way dismantling our welfare state, and thereby hurting normal Danish citizens or even citizens who are unemployed or in a more vulnerable situation in Denmark. So, therefore, there’s a rise in populism because people are scared what will happen to our welfare state if the number of refugees and migrants keeps on growing. And the populist right use that to gain support, they scare people to gain support for their political purposes.
Why is the far-right on the rise in Scandinavia? Should assets be seized from migrants in order to pay for their healthcare and housing? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!
IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Peder Sterll
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