A concerning trend is emerging. Across Europe, countries are seizing the assets of refugees. A measure legitimised as a means to help pay back the costs of their stays. This reasoning is in stark contrast with the reality.
It is happening in Denmark, where Parliament has voted for a law that allows the government to seize valuables such as jewellery and cash from arriving refugees.
It is happening in Switzerland, where authorities have begun warning refugees that they will have to hand over property worth more than a 1000 Swiss francs.
Even in some southern German states, assets worth more than 750 euros are being seized. This, in a country, which in 2015 opened its doors to over 1 million refugees.
These policies are hard to rationalise. Refugees have lost their homes, their jobs and almost everything they possess. By the virtue of their movement they tend to be impoverished, as they have often paid extortionate fees to criminal smuggling networks in order to reach their destination. It is hard to believe that anybody would want to take from them the few final assets that they have managed to salvage.
The measures reflect a hardening of attitudes toward refugees across Europe in the face of a historic influx of people. Patience with European leaders is wearing thin. The thinner it wears, the harsher the policies that are adopted.
The countries that plan to, and are currently seizing assets, are all wealthy. Every one of those listed is considered in the top 10 richest countries in Europe. It would be surprising if they were passing laws and adopting policies for the small income that it will reap.
They are, however, sending out a clear political message: Do not come to our country. If you do, risk having the few belongings of value you have left stripped from you.
A similar message was echoed during WWII. The Nazis confiscated large amounts of gold and other valuables from the Jews. While this is the only parallel that can be drawn between the two situations; the repetition of one discriminatory policy adopted in Nazi Germany, in Europe in 2016, is one too many.
The policies act as a deterrence mechanism to refugees. Propaganda to make those rich countries, seem a far less attractive option. It could work. Refugees now have innovative ways of communicating and it will not be long before the message is spread.
It could also create a strange dynamic whereby refugees with no assets seek asylum in the countries with these policies, and those who have assets left, go elsewhere. This was not their intended aim.
Either way, states must face the reality that these measures will be unlikely to dissuade desperate people from seeking asylum. They are simply fleeing for their lives.
The seizure of assets is something that states need to thoughtfully consider before implementing. Without money to build a life of their own, it only serves to alienate refugees from host communities. There are alternatives. States can give refugees quality access to the labour market, which will mean they can receive money back through taxes.
All the states involved must remember that conventions that they have ratified exist to protect those most vulnerable. The policies being adopted are not in the spirit of the European Convention on Human Rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the UN Refugee Convention.
It is especially surprising of Denmark, a country who was one of the first parties to the UN Refugee Convention and has a long tradition of providing sanctuary to those in need of international protection.
Now is a defining time in Europe for refugee protection. European nations adopting these policies should consider how their actions today, will be remembered tomorrow.
This article also appears on the author’s personal blog.