Time to end the stigmatization of refugees

Yara al-Wazir

Published: Updated:

Europe is facing its biggest migrant crisis since the Second World War, yet sadly, it seems that little has changed. Denmark’s controversial law on refugees makes provision for confiscating non-essential items worth more than £1000, as long as they hold no sentimental value to their owners. The most obvious thing to confiscate is jewellery, which is reminiscent of the treatment of Jews by the Nazis.

Refugees flee conflict zone for fear of life and naturally attempt to take every item they can fit into their bags before setting off on their journeys, either by sea, land, or air. If a refugee has a large amount of cash on them, or some jewellery, it doesn’t mean that they are wealthy; it means that they are desperate.

When the issue of refugees is outsourced to private firms it is inevitable that the refugees will be treated like a commodity

Yara al-Wazir

Ultimately, the cash that a refugee holds would have been spent in the host country, and the jewellery a refugee possesses would have probably been eventually sold to make some money on the side. Both of these actions would have contributed to the host economy. So what exactly is Denmark trying to achieve by confiscating the possessions of refugees when they are most vulnerable, at the time of arrival?

Breach of family law

As well as confiscation of possessions is concerned, the law amends the waiting time for a refugee family to join them from one to three years. In itself, this can be seen as a breach of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to family life without state’s interference. With the addition of this clause to the new bill, Denmark may appear to be promoting human trafficking.

In the current situation, many of those crossing the sea to Europe do so through an intricate web of people smugglers. Once in Denmark, they apply for their family to join them hoping that they will reach safely by flying in within a year of the application. Now that the waiting time has been tripled to three years, it is more likely that entire families will attempt to cross through a smuggling network.

There is no logical reason for keeping families apart for such a long time. The only possibility over a three-year period is the family becoming the victim of conflict in their home country. Perhaps this is Denmark’s own way of keeping refugees out of the country.


While Demark decided to take a step backwards and repeat history, the UK has realized that it was toying with history, taking very dangerous cues from it. In Middlesbrough, a small town in the North of England, the doors of asylum seekers had been painted red, making the houses easily identifiable and therefore susceptible to hate crimes.

In Cardiff, a city in Wales, asylum seekers were made to wear red wristbands to ensure they received meals. While both of these policies have been dropped, the fundamental issue remains constant.

When the issue of refugees is outsourced by a government to private firms, it is inevitable that these private firms will treat refugees as if they are a commodity, a service, or a product, rather than as the human beings that they are. This leads to their stigmatization and a lack of respect for the issues they go through on a day-to-day basis.

The first step toward addressing the refugee crisis is to see refugees as assets to the host economy, as human beings, and as contributors. No one willingly chooses to leave their home country at the risk of being treated like anything less than a human unless they are desperate – it’s about time the world realizes that fact.

Yara al-Wazir is a humanitarian activist. She is the founder of The Green Initiative ME and a developing partner of Sharek Stories. She can be followed and contacted on twitter @YaraWazir

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