On Tuesday, a majority vote in Denmark's Parliament ratified an extensive tightening of Danish asylum laws in an attempt to make the country a less attractive destination for refugees and immigrants. Among other things, bill L87 extends the mandatory waiting period for the right to family reunification from one to three years, cuts asylum seekers' financial support by 10 percent, and shortens residency permits for future seekers of asylum in Denmark. Importantly, the bill will also allow police officers to confiscate refugees' valuables. This is in order to finance their stay in the country while they seek asylum.
That's the part of the new law Danes have dubbed "The Jewellery Act"; it's caused most of the international outrage surrounding the controversial new law. Denmark has not received this kind of attention since the newspaper Jyllands-Posten decided to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad ten years ago. Just like back then, it's not the type of international attention that has people popping champagne corks in the offices of local tourist agencies.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen has said that "the point is to make sure everyone is held to the same standards, be they asylum seekers or Danes—those standards being that you provide for yourself, if you are able." However, policemen are only allowed to confiscate valuables that exceed a value of 10,000 kroner [$1,450] and that don't have sentimental value. This begs the question of how deep the real-life implications of this law will actually run.
To get an idea of what valuables refugees had with them upon their arrival in Denmark, VICE visited an old hospital in the port town of Helsingør that has been repurposed into an asylum center for approximately 150 refugees. This is what five of the guys who agreed to speak to us claimed to have been carrying with them when they first got there.
Abdul Khader is a 44-year-old Syrian who came to Denmark five months ago. His most important possession is a black bracelet, given to him by his 16-year-old daughter. She is currently in Turkey with her two siblings and their mother. Khader estimates that these items constitute a combined value of about 1,500 kroner [$219].
Subhe Mohammad hails from Syria. He is 40 years old. He has been in Denmark for four months; his wife and three children still live in Syria. His most important possession is his phone, which is filled with photos of his children. Mohammad estimates that his valuables have a combined value of about 1,700 kroner [$248].
Laith Wadea is 31 years old. He comes from Iraq, where he worked as a teacher and a blacksmith. His most cherished personal possession is his silver necklace with a Virgin Mary medallion that was given to him by his mother. Aside from the necklace, he also owns an iPhone 6 and a fake watch. He estimates that his possessions are worth a grand total of about 6,000 kroner [$874].
Nashet Blank is 40 years old. He traveled from Syria to Denmark four months ago with his wife and three children. They sold all of their valuables to be able to travel through Europe—wedding bands included. His phone and wallet mean nothing to him. He estimates that the combined value of his personal effects can't be more than 500 kroner [$73].
Ahmad Farman is 25 years old. He's from Iraq. He came to Denmark five months ago. All of his possessions are of equal importance to him, though his phone contains several photos that are especially significant to him. He estimates that it's all worth a total of 1,500 kroner [$219].