We Asked Refugees in Denmark to Show Us Their Most Valuable Possessions

By Lars Jellestad, Photos by Nikolai Linares

January 27, 2016

This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark

On Tuesday, January 26th a majority vote in the Danish Parliament ratified an extensive tightening of Danish asylum laws, in an attempt to make Denmark 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. And then there’s of course the widely reported fact, that 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 that Danes have dubbed “The Jewellery Act” as well as what’s caused most of the international outrage surrounding the controversial act.Denmark has not received this kind of attention since the newspaper Jyllands-Postendecided to publish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad ten years ago. And 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.

One could argue the legitimacy of international media juggernauts comparing Danes to the Nazis, who stripped Jews of large amounts of gold and other valuables. But the fact remains that Danish police can now frisk a person seeking asylum in Denmark, and confiscate certain valuables that person may have in their possession.

Regarding the new law, Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen stated, 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 10000 kroner (£1022) and that are not of 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 Denmark visited an old hospital in the port town of Helsingør that has been repurposed into an asylum centre for approximately 150 refugees. This is what five of the guys that 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 man. He came to Denmark five months ago. His most important possession is the black bracelet, given to him by his 16-year-old daughter. She is currently in Turkey with her two siblings and their mother. Abdul Khader estimates that these items constitute a combined value of about 1500 kroner (£153).

Subhe Mohammad hails from Syria, and is 40 years old. He has been in Denmark for four months. His wife and three children still reside in Syria. His most important possession is his phone, which is filled with photos of his children. Subhe Mohammad estimates that his valuables have a combined value of about 1700 kroner (£173).

Laith Wadea is 31 years old and comes from Iraq. He has been in Denmark for five months. In Iraq, 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 6000 kroner (£613).

Nashet Blank is a 40 years old. He travelled 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 – their 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 (£51).

Ahmad Farman is 25 years old and 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 1500 kroner (£153).