Denmark’s Ghetto Laws Replicated in other Scandinavian Countries

Danish Politicians Say Ghetto Package to Lead to Greater Integration

The group named "General Resistance" and local residents demonstrate against unlawful 'ghetto package' legislation, Copenhagen - Denmark, March 7, 2020. Credit: (Philip Davali / AP)
The group named "General Resistance" and local residents demonstrate against unlawful 'ghetto package' legislation, Copenhagen - Denmark, March 7, 2020. Credit: (Philip Davali / AP)

Denmark’s Ghetto Laws Replicated in other Scandinavian Countries

The Danish government is being heavily criticized by rights groups for its plans on eradicating disadvantaged neighborhoods by 2030. The set of laws, controversially called the “Ghetto Package,” was introduced in 2018 with the aim of transforming areas with high unemployment and crime rates. There is no date set yet for voting on the bill — but it is expected soon and it is expected to pass. If approved in its current form, the measures will meet immediate resistance from human rights advocates who argue it will lead to a more polarized populace with parallel societies.

To begin with, labelling a legislation as a “Ghetto Package” is itself controversial and probably Denmark is the only European country who uses the term in mainstream political discourse. According to Kristina Bakkaer Simonsen, a professor at Aarhus University, since 2010 the Danish government made “ghetto” a political-administrative category. 

It is not surprising that the United Nations and rights groups such as the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor have accused the Danish government of breaching EU laws as well as the European Convention on Human Rights. Activists have also accused the Danish government of being racist, saying the Ghetto Package is unfairly singling out immigrant communities and specifically the Muslim communities.

Euro-Med Monitor claims that the Ghetto Package is a form of “disguised Racism (…) Denmark’s Ghetto laws are a basic exercise of scapegoating, populism and political expediency (…). Instead of tackling the underlying root causes that lead to poverty, undereducation or unemployment amongst racial, ethnic and national minorities, the Danish government chooses to target and blame already vulnerable people for their social and economic disadvantages to score some political points,” said Michela Pugliese, Migration Researcher at the Euro-Med Monitor.

Denmark’s Ghetto laws are now been replicated in other Scandinavian countries. On August 8, Sweden’s Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman told the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter that districts with a majority of inhabitants from non-Nordic countries are a problem for Sweden. “I think it’s bad to have areas where the majority have a non-Nordic origin.” Ygeman suggested a 50 percent limit on concentrations of people with immigrant backgrounds in so-called “troubled areas.” He claimed that it is “hugely more difficult to learn and develop the [Swedish] language” in such areas.

A housing estate in Mjølnerparken, Copenhagen – the district is on the Danish government’s ‘ghetto list’. Credit: (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

With the elections coming up next month, Swedish politicians need to talk tough when it comes to immigration or they risk losing seats. In Sweden, the anti-immigration Sweden Democrats party has soared in popularity, polling about 20% in 2020. This a party that had not won a single seat in the country’s parliament before 2010. There is a profound worry that they would do even better in the coming elections.

Dr. Ramy Abdu, Chairman of Euro-Med Monitor said: “It is shameful to see the Swedish government sliding into a populist abyss in which singling out and targeting vulnerable foreigners is used for electoral aims. (…). Forceful assimilation, coercion, punitive policies, and an approach of ‘toughness’ are never the answer, but rather fuel a negative image of foreigners in society that essentially impedes their integration. Integrating foreigners into the country should be done through offering incentives, creating a welcoming and positive atmosphere, and facilitating their inclusion in society and the labor market.”


According to statistics, 11% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants are of foreign origin, of whom up to 9% are non-western immigrants and descendants of immigrants from non-western countries, mainly from the Middle East and Africa.

Denmark already had some of Europe's strictest policies on immigration and integration. However, attitudes towards immigrants hardened dramatically since the historical record-breaking influx of non-western asylum seekers into Europe during the refugee crisis of 2015.

Over the past years the number of asylum seekers and the number of family reunifications has been significantly reduced In Denmark. Hundreds of Syrian refugees had their residency permits revoked as the government deemed it safe for them to go back to Syria. In a move similar to the United Kingdom, the Danish government is in talks with the Rwandan government to open asylum centers there.

In 2017, the Folketing (Danish parliament) expressed concern that in today’s Denmark there are areas where the proportion of immigrants and descendants from non-Western countries is over 50 percent.  The parliament was concerned that people they considered to be true Danes were becoming a minority in some areas. The Ghetto Package which was passed the following year is a political plan for “One Denmark without parallel societies – no ghettos by 2030.” It is aimed at eradicating all ghettoes in Denmark by year 2030. Danish politicians believe it will help Denmark’s immigrant communities to integrate and become “true Danes.”

People demonstrate against the sale of housing in Copenhagen under the country's so-called 'ghetto package' of legislation in 2020. Credit: (Philip Davali/AP)

Talking tough on immigration and asylum is now “trendy” and a tactic adopted by even left-leaning parties. In the case of Denmark, the Ghetto Package was the creation of Denmark’s previous right-wing government but has now been embraced and enforced by the current Social Democrat Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen, who has continued the policy since coming to power in June 2019. Although the word “ghetto” has been removed from the latest legislation, the actual policies remained the same so here we are talking about just a cosmetic change.

Designating an area to be a ghetto is not just based on its crime, unemployment or education rates, but on the proportion of residents who are deemed “non-western” – meaning recent, first or second-generation migrants.

Areas with more than 50% ikke-västlige (the Danish word to describe someone of non-western origin) will be put on the list. The “ghetto-ed” neighborhood must also meet two of four criteria: more than 40% of residents are unemployed; more than 60% of 39 to 50-year-olds have no upper secondary education; crime rates are three times higher than the national average; and, residents have a gross income 55% lower than the regional average.

In 2019, the Ghetto list included 29 areas and districts that fell under the category of disadvantaged neighborhoods. 12 of them fell into “significantly-disadvantaged areas” or “hard ghettos.” Since 2018, the Danish government has implemented a number of policies to restrict the influx of new immigrants and Danish-of-non-western origin from moving into these areas in an attempt by the government to put an end to what it calls “parallel societies.”

To dismantle the ghettos and avoid the so-called “parallel societies,” the Danish government knew that they cannot force people out or stop people from moving into these areas based on ethnicity or the color of one’s skin.

So what it did was to stipulate a number of measures in the legislation. One of those measures is that housing associations are compelled to sell or redevelop at least 40% of public housing stock in these so called ghettos. Residential buildings were sold to private investors, who subsequently turned these residential blocks into modern and luxury flats. The whole idea is to encourage more affluent buyers/renters to move into these areas and drive out the poor and disadvantaged locals who do not have the economic means to afford a higher rent.  However, according to the Housing and Transport Ministry, residents will be offered the chance to be rehoused in and around the same area. However, anyone who refuses to leave will be evicted, as forewarned by the Ministry.

The plan to eradicate “ghettos” will largely affect heavily Muslim-populated neighborhoods. Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor/Getty Images

In October 2020, the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner called on the Danish government to suspend the sale of apartment houses in the “ghettoes” until its courts can determine whether laws permitting the sale would violate residents’ human rights. “Denmark must not go ahead with the sale of the buildings of Mjölnerparken under its “Ghetto package” laws until courts have had a chance to rule on it, taking applicable rules of international human rights law in full account,” they said. Mjölnerparken is a housing estate in the Nörrebro neighborhood of the Danish capital. It is home to about 2,500 residents, 98 per cent of whom are either immigrants or born to immigrants, many from Africa and the Middle East.

Another measure is the compulsory day-care: all children over the age of one year old who live in these disadvantaged neighborhoods must spend a minimum of 25 hours a week on lessons on Danish language and Danish national values. Families who do not allow their children to attend these day-care centers will have their welfare benefits withdrawn.

In another highly controversial and punitive measure under the Ghetto Package, police can crack down selectively on “disadvantaged-ghetto” and “significantly-disadvantaged ghetto” neighborhoods, and people convicted of crimes there generally face sentences twice as long as those individuals committing the same crimes elsewhere.

Ozlem Cekic, a former lawmaker who was one of the first women with a Kurdish immigrant background elected to the Danish Parliament, says the Ghetto Package set of laws are counterproductive and will backfire. Cekic, in an interview she gave to Deutsche Welle, said: "I talk with children who are living in this area, and they believe they are Danish because they are born Danish, they have Danish passports, they speak Danish, they go to schools here — but people always tell them: 'You're not Danish because you're Muslim. (…) How can you expect them to be loyal to the country that doesn't accept them as they are?”

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