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Denmark is expected to adopt a new law tomorrow. It requires police to seize cash and other valuables from some asylum seekers as they enter the country. The government says the seizures would help defray the cost of caring for the refugees.
NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from Elsinore in eastern Denmark.
UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing) A, B, C, D, E, F, G. (Singing in Danish).
SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Here in the city where Shakespeare's "Hamlet" was set, asylum seekers at a Red Cross center learn rudimentary Danish as they wait to hear whether or not they will be allowed to stay in Denmark. But the residents are less interested in the lesson than they are in complaining to journalists. On this day, the topic is about the proposed law authorizing seizures and other restrictions on new asylum seekers. Among those NPR interviews is Mehran Ziai.
MEHRAN ZIAI: (Speaking Farsi).
NELSON: The Kurd claims Hungarian border guards stole his phone, his new clothes and about $130 dollars in cash, so the Danes couldn't confiscate anything from him anyway. But Ziai says if he'd known about the proposed law when he came from northern Iraq five months ago, he might have gone elsewhere.
ZIAI: (Through interpreter) I had no choice but to come to Europe, but maybe I wouldn't have come to Denmark because I see now they don't like refugees here. Maybe I would've gone to Sweden or Norway or another country.
NELSON: Such second-guessing is exactly what the center-right government in Copenhagen is looking for, especially by refugees who are thinking about coming to Denmark. Officials complain they've been overwhelmed by the 20,000 asylum-seekers who came last year, even though that number pales in comparison to what neighboring countries have taken in.
MARCUS KNUTH: As you know, we are a very small country of just 5 million people with a very, very generous welfare system.
NELSON: Marcus Knuth is a Danish MP and spokesman for his government on immigration and integration issues.
KNUTH: We need to take measures to basically make Denmark a little bit less attractive compared to the other European countries that people seek asylum in.
NELSON: The Danish politician rejects criticism of the law, saying some other European countries already take harsher measures, nor will Danish police be taking weddings rings or other sentimental belongings, Knuth says. Even so, some Danish supporters of anti-asylum laws say the seizures of cash and belongings of asylum seekers bringing in more than $1,450 to Denmark are symbolic, at best.
One such asylum critic is journalist Mikkel Andersson, who writes for several publications, including the satirical Danish equivalent of "The Onion."
MIKKEL ANDERSSON: People are traveling to Denmark in order to make a permanent home here. And I mean, I can completely understand that. I mean, if I was living in Iraq, I'd probably attempt to do the same thing. But what the result is, is that Denmark is spending an inordinate amount - huge amount of money on helping a very few people.
NELSON: Andersson says more likely to stop would-be asylum seekers are the Danish draft legislation's provisions limiting asylum to one year at a time and barring refugees from bringing their families over for at least three years, even if they are living in war zones.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Danish).
NELSON: Back at the Elsinore asylum center, most residents NPR interviews like Iranian Kurd Loghman Rezaie predict the new law won't make a difference.
LOGHMAN REZAIE: (Speaking Farsi).
NELSON: Even if all of Europe tries to make things harder, Rezaie says people will still come.
Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, reporting from Elsinore in eastern Denmark.
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