Denmark’s New “Ghetto Package” Is A Threat to Universal Human Rights

Photo: Mogens Engelund, accessed through, 12-7-18.

(photo: Mogens Engelund, accessed through

The new set of harsh laws aimed at residents of what the Danish ministry of Transport and Housing calls ‘ghettos,’which consist of 25 areas in Denmark with a relatively large Muslim migrant population, has sparked global condemnation by world leaders and human rights activists. The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Right’s Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, has called the new “ghetto package” “hugely troubling” and a risk for “heightening racial discrimination against people of migrant origin.” Measures include instructions in ‘Danish values’ and traditions through  mandatory daycare for 25 hours a week for children as young as one.

Unfortunately, restrictive and discriminatory measures like these are far from new in Denmark’s ongoing debate over immigration and integration. The current measures are the sixth anti-ghetto policy enforcement effort of its kind in Denmark since 1994, stemming from deeply-rooted anti-Muslim sentiment says Mujahed Sebastian Abassi, Director of the Center for Dansk-Muslimske Relationer (CEDAR). A 2016 survey among 1045 Danes, found that 1 in 3 believes they are at war with Islam, and its followers. In 2016, 20% of all hate crimes  targeted Muslims, while they only make up 5% of the general population. A 2017 report by CEDAR shows that as many as 120 regulations in Denmark resulted in limiting freedoms of Muslims in 2016, and that the majority of mainstream Danish newspapers have negative stories about Muslims in Denmark. Yet, only 22% of those same articles make an effort to interview the Muslim community being discussed."

Too often, the term Muslim is used to refer to all migrants of non-western heritage says Bashy Quraishi, secretary general of the European Muslim Initiative for Social Cohesion and board member of the Danish Institute for Human Rights. Quraishi adds that anti-immigration and anti-Muslim activism intentionally uses the term ghetto in connection with Muslims in Denmark to reinforce the image that this population is neither a part of the country or the cultural values Danes value.

The Danish government chooses to use the word dehumanizing and stigmatizing term ‘ghetto’, says Quraishi, “they are very smart in applying this term, they want to dehumanise Muslims. A better term would be socially deprived areas.”  Anyone with a few high school history lessons understands that the term ghetto is highly problematic. Ghetto’s were first created by Nazi’s during the Holocaust, as a key step to separate and segregate Jews from the rest of society.

Many of the residents want to leave the areas, but are unable to do so due to their economic status and the Danish housing system. The Danish government and local municipalities are responsible for allocating residents to social housing property, and often refuse access to other areas for immigrants and citizens with low incomes.

Danish officials claim that the new measures are not directly aimed at Muslims and/or Danes with a migrant background. Denmark’s Justice Minister Soren Pape Poulsen justifies the proposals by arguing, “To me this is about, no matter who lives in these areas and who they believe in, they have to profess to the values required to have a good life in Denmark.”

Contrary to such statements, the proposals are clearly designed to assimilate anyone from a non-Danish or non-western background, based on the assumption that their values are not congruent with Danish society already. One of the criteria of what entails a ‘ghetto’ literally is that over 50 percent of residents have non-Western nationality or heritage.

Attempts to teach the ‘non-civilized’ about ‘proper values’ are countless, even in recent European history. The Netherlands is another country where now the phrase ‘integration has failed’ is used in xenophobic political narratives. They also have a history of trying to assimilate minorities; from sending entire families that were seen as ‘socially maladjusted’ to ‘woonscholen’ (housing schools) to be taught how to be good citizens; to the regular checking  by Dutch authorities of Indonesian migrant households to see if they were eating potatoes and not rice, in the 1950’s. In this same decade, a group of Inuit children were taken from Greenland and their families in an attempt to be ‘re-educated as model Danish citizens’, but “ended up as a small, rootless and marginalised group on the periphery of their own society”.

All these initiatives have a few things in common: families were classified as ‘problematic’, placed in designated areas, and plunged in a process of so called education and regulation.  They were disallowed from speaking their native tongue, received intense courses in ‘citizenship and values,’ were discouraged from their native dress, practises, and customs, and children were taken away from their families for long periods of time. Their Universal Human Rights; the right to equality; freedom from discrimination; freedom from torture and degrading treatment; the right to privacy and the right to life; liberty, and personal security; were disregarded so that they could be ‘civilized’.

By repeating these efforts through the new ‘ghetto package’, the Danish government clearly demonstrates to have not learned from history, or other sources for that matter. Experts, researchers, residents or other key stakeholders where not consulted while drafting the new proposals, says Pernille Skipper, political spokesperson with the left-wing Red-Green alliance. Furthermore,the report A Historical Review of Significantly Marginalised Housing Areas in Denmark, concludes that political attempts and investments in marginalized housing communities have not been able to effectively solve problems faced by marginalized areas.

What can be done? Quraishi is pessimistic. “Nothing can be done. Only 2 out of 179 parliament members have a migrant background, and the largest opposition speaks the same language as the ruling far right. Danish Muslims and communities need to be proactive, become politically and socially active across the country to show their already- integrated lifestyles as Danish. Today, too many Muslim organizations remain silent, with only a few NGOs fighting against discrimination like these ghetto laws.”

In order to claim our Human Rights, Muslims need to stand up against stigmatizing policies like these newly proposed ghetto laws. We need to demonstrate that we are not on the periphery of our societies and ‘in need of saving.’ We need to show that we are a part of the Western societies we live in, and that we contribute to that wholeheartedly. Not because of being grateful for a place here, but because the Islamic values we hold dear - compassion, freedom, and social justice - are also values held high in Denmark.


Fenna ten Berge

Director MPV Nederland

Vice-Chair AIM

MA Gender and Identity in the Middle East


The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Muslim World Today.

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