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The Guardian: Denmark accused of racism after anti-ghetto law adapted for Ukrainians

3-5-2022 |

Denmark is facing fresh claims of racism after MPs changed the country’s controversial anti-ghetto law to allow Ukrainian refugees to move into social housing emptied of “non-westerners”.

For three years, the government has sought to restrict immigrants from moving into what are described as disadvantaged neighbourhoods in an attempt to avoid so-called “parallel societies”.

Access to social housing, some of which has been earmarked for demolition, has been shut off to “non-westerners”, defined as being people from outside the EU, eight associated European countries, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

People born in Denmark but who have a single “non-western” parent have also been included in the category of people subject to the restrictions.

However, after the Danish government’s decision to take in 100,000 refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, a majority of the Danish parliament voted on Thursday to amend the law to exempt Ukrainians from such restrictions. Plans to demolish social housing in the targeted areas have also been put on hold to free up accommodation for Ukrainians.

Susheela Math, a litigation officer at the Justice Initiative, a campaign group against forced evictions in the so-called ghettos, said the law change proved the parallel society law was racially discriminatory.

She said: “The laws underlying the evictions of tenants living in ‘vulnerable housing areas’ and the state’s volte-face on measures such as demolitions and housing allocations, show that the ‘ghetto package’ was clearly meant to target non-white individuals.

“These discriminatory measures do not serve any public good and clearly exacerbate the shortage of affordable housing in Denmark. Many of the racialised residents being evicted are Danish and identify strongly with their Danish identity, having been born in or lived in these so-called ghetto areas for years.

“These neighbourhoods are their homes. Some of these individuals were refugees themselves and have fled conflict and persecution – no differently than Ukrainians now fleeing war. The discriminatory treatment that they have been subjected to stands in stark contrast to the rightfully compassionate welcome that Ukrainian refugees have received in Denmark.”

The anti-ghetto law was first proposed in March 2018 by the Liberal minority government, which introduced the political plan “One Denmark without parallel societies – no ghettos by 2030” and enacted the concept of “non-western” in Danish law.

The Social Democratic prime minister, Mette Frederiksen, has continued the policy since coming to power in June 2019 although the word ghetto has been removed from the latest legislation.

The neighbourhoods targeted have more than 1,000 residents and more than half of residents are of “non-western” origin. They 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.

Twelve neighbourhoods currently fall into that category. In these areas, misdemeanours also carry double the legal penalties in place elsewhere and daycare is mandatory for all children over the age of one, or family allowances are withdrawn.

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Majken Felle, a resident of Mjølnerparken, a neighbourhood designated as a “ghetto” area, said she was convinced the parallel societies policy was driven by bigotry.

She said: “Recently, a representative from Bo-Vita, the organization responsible for the redevelopment of Mjølnerparken, said in an interview that in neighbourhoods like mine, there is an Arab mentality and residents do not care about western culture, making these areas feel potentially unsafe to Ukrainian refugees.

“He is saying out loud what is the unspoken intention behind the permanent removal of homes in ‘ghetto’ areas: that these policies and demolition projects are driven by racial prejudice.”

According to Statistics Denmark, 11% of Denmark’s 5.8 million inhabitants are of foreign origin, of whom 58% are from a country considered “non-western”.