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Denmark Modifies Plan to Seize Migrants' Cash, Valuables

FILE - Middle Eastern migrants, who came from Germany by ferry and train Sunday night, and are walking from Rodby in southern Denmark toward Sweden.

Denmark's parliament will discuss Wednesday the first draft of a controversial immigration bill that would make migrants pay for staying in the country.

The bill was first proposed in December and called for border searches of migrants. They would have been allowed to keep only the equivalent of $437 in cash or valuables.

In describing the proposal last month, the immigration ministry said the draft legislation would give authorities "the power to search the clothing and luggage of asylum-seekers and other migrants without a permit to stay in Denmark with a view to finding assets which may cover expenses."

It immediately drew international criticism and comparisons to Nazi Germany's seizing of gold and valuables from Jews and others during World War II.

In response to the criticism, Integration Minister Inger Stojberg said the proposal was modified and migrants would be allowed to keep the equivalent of about $1,400 in cash and valuables. Also, items such as cellphones or those with sentimental value, such as wedding rings, would be exempted, the ministry said.

The ruling center-right Venstre party, which relies on support from the anti-immigration Danish People's Party, defended the bill, saying the same argument would be used against Danish nationals expecting free handouts, the French news agency AFP reported.

In Denmark, health and education are free services provided to all citizens. The Danish welfare system is subsidized by the state and, as a result, Denmark has one of the highest taxation levels in the world, according to the government.

The proposal to be discussed Wednesday is part of a bigger immigration bill that would also delay family reunifications for some refugees by up to three years, shorten residence permits, and place advertisements in Lebanese newspapers to deter migrants from traveling to Denmark, the AFP reported.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, criticized the bill and said the proposals sent a signal to other countries that "could fuel fear, xenophobia and similar restrictions that would reduce -- rather than expand -- the asylum space globally and put refugees in need at life-threatening risks."