Authorities in southern German states are confiscating cash and other valuables from refugees as they arrive in order to pay for their stay.

"The practice in Bavaria and the federal rules set out in law correspond in substance with the process in Switzerland," Bavarian interior minister Joachim Herrmann told Bild newspaper on Thursday (21 January). "Cash holdings and valuables can be secured [by the authorities] if they are over €750 (£575) and if the person has an outstanding bill, or is expected to have one."

The newspaper reported that in Baden-Wuerttemberg authorities are seizing belongings above the value of €350 (£268) to cover costs, including personal items such as family jewellery.

A law allowing authorities in Denmark to seize valuables from refugees has attracted fierce criticism, with opponents claiming it raises memories of the Nazi seizure of valuables from Jewish refugees. Southern German states have borne the brunt of the country's immigration crisis, with millions entering the country after travelling through eastern and central Europe.

The states claim they are acting in accordance with German federal law, which requires asylum seekers to use up their own resources before being provided with state aid. "Even if some prejudices persist – you don't have it any better as an asylum seeker as someone on unemployment benefit," Baden Wuerttemberg spokesman Aydan Özoguz told the newspaper.

Stephan Dünnwald of the Bavarian Refugee Council told Deutsche Welle that confiscation of valuables had long been standard practice: "The refugees get a receipt for whatever they have on them, and then that money is used for any expenses the state incurs – usually they calculate around €400 (£306) a month. That's part of German law – nothing to do with any new restrictions."

The UN refugee authority the UNHCR has criticised the Danish law, claiming it would "fuel fear and xenophobia". Only Germany's left-wing Die Linke party has voiced criticism of the German state's policies.