Family unity a "fundamental principle" of international law: UNHCR

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Members of a Syrian refugee family huddle around a stove inside their shelter in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley. Photo: UNHCR/A. McConnell

Keeping families together is a "fundamental principle in international law" that will be violated by a policy on asylum seekers, adopted by Danish lawmakers on Tuesday.

That's the view of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) responding to the new law, which will extend the waiting time for families to be together, from one year, to three.

Matthew Wells reports.

The new law passed by the Danish parliament not only allows the confiscation of money and property belonging to refugees above a certain threshold, but it also extends dramatically the waiting time for family members to be reunited, once asylum has been granted.

Here's Adrian Edwards, chief spokesperson for UNHCR in Geneva.

"To give Danish police the authority to search and confiscate valuables from asylum seekers sends damaging messages in our view, it runs the risk of fueling sentiments of fear and discrimination rather than promoting solidarity with people in need of protection. On the limited access to family reunification, family unity is a fundamental principle in international law."

Lawmakers who voted for it, argue that the policy brings refugees, from places like Syria, in line with out-of-work Danes, and that the increased waiting time will help to discourage new arrivals.

Denmark is expecting to receive around 20,000 asylum seekers in 2016, compared with 15,000 last year, according to news reports.

Matthew Wells, United Nations.

Duration: 1'01"

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