COPENHAGEN (Reuters) - A member of the European Parliament from Denmark's center-right ruling party has defected to a left-wing party in protest at government plans to seize valuables from refugees to help fund their stay in the country.
Denmark has been mainly a transit country for refugees, and the minority Liberal government hopes to deter more from seeking asylum by taking valuables or cash worth more than 3,000 Danish crowns ($437) during border searches.
Jens Rohde said the controversial proposal and other laws cutting benefits for refugees showed the Liberals had lost their way and were pandering to the anti-immigrant Danish People's Party (DF), on whose support they depend on in parliament.
"The Liberal party has lost out big time to the DF. The DF's opinions are absolutely legitimate but I don't understand why we have to copy them," Rohde, an MEP since 2009, told the broadsheet newspaper Politiken in a weekend interview.
He said he was joining the leftist Social-Liberal Party.
"I'm wondering and I'm concerned that there's no major outrage among Danes, that there aren't more people standing up and saying this can't be right. It cannot be right that we have to accept that they take the last bits of jewelry and the last dignity from refugees when they arrive to Denmark," he added.
He later confirmed his comments about the immigration reform bill, which has yet to be approved by parliament.
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," the immigration ministry said.
A country of 5.6 million people, Denmark expects 20,000 asylum seekers this year compared to the almost 200,000 expected by Sweden. Many of the refugees passing through Denmark this year have been bound for the neighboring country.
The Liberals, who hold just 39 of parliament's 179 seats, have been walking a policy tightrope between keeping DF on their side while eliciting the support of the center-left opposition Social Democrats for the government's more EU-friendly policies.
Additional reporting by Ole Mikkelsen; Editing by Helen Popper