Controversy Surrounding Denmark’s Plans To Abolish Immigrant ‘Ghettos’

The Danish government has generated controversy over its recent plans to abolish immigrant ‘ghettos’ in Denmark. As of now, the government lists 22 areas within Denmark as ‘ghettos’ where a majority of the residents are immigrants from non-Western backgrounds. These new plans involve compulsory enrollment for children (from ages one and up) from ‘ghetto’ areas in classes that are geared towards teaching ‘Danish values’ and the Danish language, demolishing and reconstructing buildings within designated ‘ghetto’ areas, lowering welfare benefits for immigrants in these areas to make them economically unattractive to settle in, and deploying more police and initiating tougher punishments for crime that occur within these areas.

Denmark’s Prime Minister; Lars Lokke Rasmussen has claimed that these new plans are aimed to “deal with parallel societies”, hinting that Danish culture and values have been threatened as flows of migration have increased. The idea of a “parallel society” and incompatible values insinuates feelings of unwelcomeness and only serves as a reminder to immigrants that their identity defines how they are portrayed within Danish society. Further reflecting this notion, Merete Riisager, the Danish minister for education, according to the Washington Post has also stated that “parents who come from the Middle East have a totally different understanding of pedagogy, childhood and school”. This type of anti-immigrant rhetoric has been repeated by several other Danish politicians, whereby a rise in conservative attitudes has become prominent amongst Danish political parties. Even the centre-left and pro-immigration Social Democrat Party has shown support for the government’s plans to eradicate ‘ghettos’ in an attempt to gain back supporters who were concerned over the party’s liberal pro-immigration stance.

What needs to be addressed is that the Danish government’s plans to eradicate these ‘ghettos’, issues negative sentiments that alienate immigrants from the rest of Danish society. Since most of Denmark’s immigrants originate from areas in the Middle East and Africa, specifically targeting these areas proactively reinforces a notion that immigrants are obliged to quickly assimilate or integrate into a society they may not initially feel connected to. In particular, correlating ‘ghettos’ with immigrants reflects harsh anti-immigrant attitudes that mirror sentiments of Nazi Germany’s treatment of the Jewish population during World War II.

Moreover, Denmark’s rise in anti-immigrant attitudes has been a predominant topic in mainstream politics. Whilst the country has been perceived as a democratic welfare-state for numerous years, recent restrictions on immigration has altered this perception. Denmark remains as the only country to officially coin certain residential areas as ‘ghettos’. More so, the government has issued specific criteria that classify a residential zone as a ‘ghetto’. A zone is classified as a ‘ghetto’ if 50% of the residential population are from non-Western origins, low income and employment rates, and inhabitants lack education or only have a primary-level education (education outside of Denmark is not considered).

As a country that is renowned for having a liberal and secular society, Denmark’s restrictive immigration stance could perhaps alter this reputation. With the rise of the right-wing populism in Europe, the longstanding correlation between crime and immigration needs to be re-examined in order to decrease tensions between immigrants and citizens within Denmark. The Danish government could begin this process by disassociating immigrants from the word ‘ghetto’ as it facilitates stigmatization and a separation of cultures further.

Emily Kan