January 13, 2016 / 12:42 PM / 4 years ago

Denmark extends border checks, debates immigration reform

COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - Denmark said it would extend temporary border controls by 20 days in order to deter migrants as parliament started to debate tough immigration reforms.

A large group of migrants, mainly from Syria, walk towards the north on a highway in Denmark September 7, 2015. REUTERS/Bax Lindhardt/Scanpix Denmark

Denmark, which swung to the right in the last election in June, is one of several European Union countries trying to discourage migrants from seeking asylum on its territory.

The question of how to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees fleeing war and poverty has divided EU members, and has also triggered a surge in anti-immigration sentiment across the bloc.

At 1400GMT, parliament started to debate a raft of proposals on changing immigration laws, including a measure that would allow the authorities to confiscate all valuables belonging to refugees worth over 10,000 Danish crowns ($1,450), and then use them to pay for the refugee’s stay.

The proposal has been condemned by international media as well as the United Nations refugee agency.

“It is very odiously reminiscent of the German past — leave the valuables and go to the showers,” Derek Beach, an associate professor in political science at Aarhus university.

Immigration Minister Inger Stojberg has defended the proposal as being in keeping with a Danish norm that if you can pay for yourself, you must do so.

The Immigration Ministry said on Wednesday it would extend its temporary border checks at the usually open border with Germany until Feb. 3 , after an initial 10-day period expired.

“The assessment is that there is still a risk that a large number of illegal immigrants accumulate in Denmark,” Immigration Ministry said in a statement.

More than 21,000 asylum seekers came to Denmark last year, up from around 14,800 in 2014. The government expects around 25,000 people to claim asylum in 2016.

Denmark’s still fresh center-right minority government is taking a tougher line as it needs the support of the anti-immigrant and eurosceptic Danish People’s Party to survive.

“It’s a sign of toughness ... These are symbolic policies to try to allay the fears of the 20 to 25 percent of voters that are quite sympathetic to anti-immigration policies,” Beach said.

On the ground, the issue has split Danes.

“I realize it is sad for those people but as long as we cannot even take care of our elderly and sick people then maybe we should concentrate on that,” said 61-year-old Marianne Andersen.

By contrast, Soren Ostergaard, 57 and a teacher, says he has “never been more embarrassed by my country”.

“We are a rich country with plenty of resources. We could definitely take more than we already have. We should just shut up and reach out to those in need,” he said.

Neighboring Sweden, which took in the most refugees in Europe after Germany per capita, extended its temporary controls last week until February 8.

Additional reporting by Erik Matzen; writing by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky

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