Muslim woman in Denmark leads challenge against government’s ‘ghetto list’

Amina Safi has called on the government to remove her district from an official list for underprivileged areas

People demonstrate in Copenhagen, Denmark, Wednesday Aug. 1, 2018, as the new ban on garments covering the face is implemented. Supporters and opponents of a ban on garments covering the face, including Islamic veils such as the niqab or burqa, clashed verbally Wednesday as the law takes effect. (Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix via AP)
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A Muslim woman in Denmark and her three friends are spearheading a campaign to have their district removed from the country's so-called "ghetto list".

Amina Safi, a 19-year-old of Afghan origin, and her three friends from the Tingbjerg housing project on the outskirts of Copenhagen launched a petition to protest against the annual list, saying it discriminates against them.

"Remove the list," the Tingbjerg locals wrote in an open letter to Denmark’s Housing Minister Kaare Dybvad. "Please do not tell us once again that we are a problem."

According to the German newspaper Deutches Welle, the petition against the list of underprivileged districts, which has so far gained over 9,000 signatures, was launched in conjunction with the NGO, ActionAid Denmark.

By highlighting Tingbjerg, it is the campaigners’ hope that the list will be scrapped in its entirety.

"The ghetto list stigmatises us," Ms Safi said. "We feel like second-class citizens. Tingbjerg is such a great area, but we constantly have to defend ourselves because of our address."

To be included on the list, housing areas must have more than 1,000 residents and meet three out of five criteria. These include high levels of unemployment, low income, high conviction rates for violent and drug crimes and, controversially, more than 50 per cent of residents must be of non-western heritage.

"These criteria are discriminatory. Tingbjerg is also on the list because of the high proportion of non-western immigrants and descendants," Ms Safi, whose parents come from Afghanistan, said.

"But I feel more Danish than Afghan. I was born and raised in Denmark, and I think and dream in Danish. I am very ambitious with my studies and feel a huge responsibility to contribute to Danish society," she added.

In 2019 three districts were removed from the list, but Tingbjerg has remained and is categorised as a "hard-core ghetto" after appearing five years in a row.

The list was first introduced in 2010 but was criticised by experts as counterproductive.

Aydin Soei, a sociologist and author, has shown residents from Tingbjerg face negative and lower expectations from their surroundings compared to students from a neighbouring area. He fears that such designations by the government may simply continue the cycle of deprivation.

"I am worried that these negative expectations and prejudices turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, and young people start to believe they are doomed to failure because they live in a so-called ghetto," he said.

In response to the letter from Ms Safi and her friends, Mr Dyvbad defended the list as a means to an end.

"The ghetto list is a tool to reduce the difference between the vulnerable residential areas and the more well-functioning residential areas. Therefore, we must create mixed cities and neighbourhoods throughout the country,” he said.