COPENHAGEN, July 3 (Reuters) - Denmark's newly elected government plans to halve the benefits refugees receive from the state in an effort to slow the flow of asylum seekers into the country, a minister said on Friday.
Tapping into a debate that has exposed deep divisions among European Union states over how to respond to an unprecedented influx of migrants, Minister of Integration Inger Stojberg said there was no doubt Denmark should help those in need.
But if new arrivals were too numerous, integrating them would not be possible. "It is a matter of slowing down the flow of asylum seekers... We need to be able to keep up," she told local broadcaster TV2.
The proposal is part of a government bill that received its first reading in parliament on Friday.
The Liberal party to which Stojberg belongs has formed a minority government following inconclusive parliamentary elections on June 18.
To pass its legislative programme, it is currently relying on support from the eurosceptic Danish People's Party (DF) and two other smaller centre-right parties.
The DF, whose campaign pledges included curbing immigration and reestablishing Denmark's border controls, is one of a number of anti-immigration parties that have shown signs of gaining support across Europe.
It gained more seats than the Liberals, but chose not to enter government, deciding it could influence policy more effectively from the sidelines.
Having announced last week it would impose controls on its border to stop smugglers and illegal migrants, the government said on Friday that benefits for refugees should be cut from 11,300 Danish crowns a month to 6,000 ($893).
That would include a monthly 1,500-crown bonus when they had learned Danish to a certain level, Stojberg said.
The Danish Red Cross said benefit cuts would be likely to simply make refugees who reached Denmark poorer rather than staunching the flow.
"We have tried this before, and we saw that a lower public benefit limited integration," its managing director Anders Ladekarl told TV2.
Southern European states are clamouring for more EU help to deal with increasing numbers of migrants crossing the Mediterranean, mostly from war-torn African and Middle Eastern countries.
EU states have agreed a voluntary scheme to share out the care of refugees but rejected European Commission proposals for a mandatory system from which, if approved, Denmark would have been exempt.
($1 = 6.7184 Danish crowns) (Reporting by Annabella Pultz Nielsen; editing by John Stonestreet)
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