Ai Weiwei cancels exhibit to protest new Danish law that seizes asylum seeker’s valuables

Denmark adopts a law that allows police to confiscate asylum seekers’ valuables: Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s response is unequivocal.

Chinese artist Ai Weiwei made the call to gallery owner Jens Faurschou from the Greek island of Lesbos, which saw 450,000 refugees reach its shores in 2015: he told him to cancel his exhibition, Ruptures, at the Faurschou Foundation in Copenhagen, which has been running since March last year and was meant to end this April. This is Ai Weiwei’s response to a law that was approved by the Danish Parliament, the Folketing, on the 26th of January. It allows Danish police to confiscate asylum seeker’s valuables if they are worth more than 10,000 kroner (1,450 dollars) and have no sentimental value to their owner (such as wedding rings), allegedly to cover the costs of their maintenance. In addition, asylum seekers aren’t allowed to bring their families over to the country for three years.


The Danish law

The relatively affluent Scandinavian countries have until recently been considered welcoming towards asylum seekers, attracting many of those fleeing the Middle East and North Africa. Denmark alone expects to receive 20,000 asylum seekers this year compared to 15,000 in 2015. However, the country responded to the influx by tightening its border with Germany just a few hours after its neighbour Sweden introduced ID checks for those entering it from Denmark, for the first time in over half a century.


Denmark’s centre-right government justified the controversial legislation that allows authorities to seize asylum seekers’ assets on the basis of a similar rule that affects its citizens applying for welfare support. Similar laws regarding asylum seekers have also taken root in Switzerland, The Netherlands and southern Germany. Denmark’s Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen and its Integration Minister Inger Støjberg both spoke in front of the European Parliament on the day prior to the Folketing’s approval arguing that the law respects international regulations: though Denmark is a member of the European Union, it has opted out of its asylum rules. “When you have such a broad, universal welfare system as the Danish one, this is also based on this basic principle that if you can support yourself you have to do so,” Støjberg said.


Many spoke out against the Parliament’s decision, also raising comparisons with Nazi Germany’s practice of confiscating the possession of Jews during World War Two. Human rights associations decried the move and a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon stated: “People who have suffered tremendously, who have escaped war and conflict, who’ve literally walked hundreds of kilometres if not more and put their lives at risk by crossing the Mediterranean should be treated with compassion and respect, and within their full rights as refugees”.



A photo posted by Ai Weiwei (@aiww) on

Ai Weiwei

He is known for his provocative and politically-engaged art. Most famously, Ai Weiwei conducted an investigation into an earthquake that took place in the Chinese state of Sichuan in 2008, which saw the death of thousands, in response to the government’s lack of transparency on the damage caused by the disaster and the causes behind the collapse of certain buildings, including a number of schools. Given his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government and high international profile, Ai Weiwei is considered a real thorn in the side by the authorities. So much so that in 2011 he was sequestered, detained for 81 days, then released without charges. Ai Weiwei is currently visiting Lesbos to film a documentary about refugees coming from the Middle East.

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