At the end of each year, the Danish government publishes a list of what it classifies as the country’s “ghettos”. There are currently 28.
Areas where more than 50 percent of residents are immigrants or descendants of “non-Western countries” can be designated a “ghetto” based on the following criteria: income, percentage of those employed, levels of education and proportion of people with criminal convictions.
Denmark is currently executing its controversial national “ghetto plan” – One Denmark without Parallel Societies: No Ghettos in 2030 – introduced by the previous government in March 2018, and now passed into a set of harsh laws and a housing policy.
This involves the physical demolishment and transformation of low-income, largely Muslim neighbourhoods. Residents of these areas – working-class, immigrant and refugee communities – say the measures are aimed at containing as well as dispersing them.
The term “ghetto”, with its negative connotations of festering crime, unemployment and dysfunction is a source of anguish for residents who believe the plan stigmatises them further while offering no improvements to their conditions. Anger, confusion and a feeling of betrayal are mounting among those deemed to be living in “ghettos”.
Residents of “ghettos” are now subject to a different set of rules. Penalties for crimes can be doubled. Certain violations, for example, which are normally finable offences could mean imprisonment.
Laws passed last March require children from the age of one to spend at least 25 hours a week in childcare to receive mandatory training in “Danish values”. There was even a proposal from the far-right Danish People’s party that “ghetto children” should have a curfew of 8pm, although that was rejected by the parliament.
But perhaps one of the most insidious rules is that public housing in so-called “hard ghettos” will be limited to only 40 percent of total housing by 2030. This means that public housing is now either being torn down, redeveloped or rented to private companies. The fear is that thousands across Denmark may have to leave their homes. By some reports, that number could be more than 11,000 people.
Poul Aaroe Pedersen, a spokesperson at the Ministry of Transport and Housing, which is overseeing the housing changes, said in an email that the aim “is to prevent parallel societies” by integrating “socially disadvantaged residential areas” with the surrounding community through the development of different types of housing.
Pederson said it is not possible to provide an exact number for how many people would need to move.
According to lawyer Morten Tarp, two communities, one in the city of Helsingor and the other in the town of Slagelse, whose residents he is working to support, will receive the country’s first housing contract termination notices in early 2020.
Mjolnerparken, a so-called “hard ghetto”, is a four-block housing complex situated in Norrebro, a lively, multicultural and gentrifying district in Copenhagen.
There, 260 residencies will be sold. Residents have been informed through the housing association that they will have to move and are being encouraged to relocate to other areas. Many are uncertain about what will happen next.
We visited Mjolnerparken and spoke to four residents about how the regulations are affecting their lives and their fears for the future.