Denmark accused of racism after 'anti-ghetto' law is changed for Ukrainian refugees

'Non-western' residents of disadvantaged areas have been evicted under the scheme

Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen's government wants to give Ukrainian refugees access to homes. Reuters
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Denmark has been accused of racism after it changed a law barring refugees from certain areas to free up accommodation for people fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Denmark introduced a policy three years ago that sought to restrict immigrants from moving into what are described as disadvantaged areas. It has led to some "non-western" people being evicted.

Last week, the government voted to amend the policy to allow Ukrainian refugees access to the homes. It has pledged to take in 100,000 refugees fleeing the war.

Susheela Math, a litigation officer at campaign group the Justice Initiative, which is against forced evictions, said the move showed the policy was "racially inequitable and unnecessary".

The Open Society Justice Initiative said the "discriminatory housing laws" laws should be abolished and called for better access to housing and education for all refugees.

The group says the "ghetto package" has sought to "physically demolish and transform" largely Muslim areas where many families are classed as "non-westerners".

“The state’s volte-face on measures such as housing allocations for refugee groups show that the ‘ghetto package’ was clearly meant to target non-white individuals,” Ms Math said.

"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.”

Majken Felle, a resident of Mjolnerparken, a housing project near Copenhagen that is classified as a “ghetto” area, accused the authorities of racism.

“Recently, a representative from Bo-Vita, the organisation responsible for the redevelopment of Mjolnerparken, 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," she said.

"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.”

Ms Felle is among 12 residents who have filed a lawsuit against the Danish government, with the support of the Justice Initiative.

They are seeking a ruling that measures under the “ghetto package” breach EU laws and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Denmark has focused on 12 areas under the policy.

More than half of the residents are of “non-western” origin. The areas also have high unemployment and crime rates are three times higher than the national average.

In the same areas, crimes carry double the legal penalties.

Updated: May 03, 2022, 12:09 PM