At the outset of the refugee crisis in Europe, Denmark was one of many progressive nations that stood up to the challenge of accepting displaced peoples. But the Danish government recently enacted a policy that significantly bumps down their nation’s humanitarian standing: if any refugee carrying more than 10,000 Danish kroner — $1736 — worth of possessions with them, the Danish government will confiscate the excess.
The proponents of the bill claim that it is designed to help pay for the costs of processing and hosting refugees. But if the ultimate goal of accepting refugees is to protect them and to keep them healthy and safe until the situation improves in their homelands, stripping them of their cash helps no one. Refugees who have money have the means to settle down, become productive and contribute to the economy — a better investment in the long run. Refugees with nothing turn to crime, fall into poverty and place an even greater burden on the welfare state. If the nation’s finances are truly under duress, skimming nickels from the poorest contingent possible is not going to be the solution.
The thought-killing cliche of pragmatism masks a more insidious motivation. In the wake of the refugee crisis, xenophobic and anti-Muslim parties like the Front National in Paris and the Danish People’s Party in Denmark exploited the growing sense of unease by fingering blame at refugees, calling for them to be turned away for the sake of security. They care not for the efficacy of the bill, nor do they care to actually pay for humane treatment in the first place. The confiscation measure is merely a way to scare refugees away from Danish borders.
It is certainly no coincidence that the measure came on the heels of a widely-publicized string of sexual assaults by refugees in Cologne. Right-wing nativists used the attacks to rally popular opinion against the migrants, who were labelled threats to ordinary people and the stability of the nation at large. Their exhortations of civilizational collapse are, of course, all overblown. One highly publicized incident cannot stand for a whole group any more than these extremist political parties stand for the nation as a whole. By passing the confiscation bill, the Danish government is allowing the loud, inhumane voice of a few take precedent over the understanding and welcoming many.
If there is an aspect of Danish culture that is worthy of protecting, it’s that same social consciousness and desire to protect the world’s weakest that created the welfare state in the first place. It’s an awareness of the dangerous nature of fear and an ever-present desire to avoid the mistakes of the past. No European nation can afford at this moment to give themselves to paranoia — too many lives hang in the balance.
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A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 1 print edition. Email Richard Shu at [email protected]