Denmark is embarking on a program to move tens of thousands of immigrants out of ethnically-concentrated communities, in what the country’s media have dubbed “the biggest social experiment of this century.”
To encourage integration, the center-left government is planning mass housing evictions and a cap on the number of migrants allowed to live in 58 housing estates and neighborhoods deemed as troubled and designated as "special prevention areas” because of high crime.
The strategy aims to prevent the continuation of what top officials have called self-isolating communities and the emergence of “parallel religious and cultural societies.”
The plan is drawing fire from minority groups and civil libertarians, who accuse the government of stigmatizing migrants and of planning to evict public tenants to gentrify estates for the benefit of more affluent Danes.
Critics say the measure is based on false premises. They say surveys show that migrants want to live in mixed neighborhoods, but that is hard to do because of a national housing crisis. One-third of migrants polled said they wanted also to live close to friends and family for practical assistance and emotional support.
Marie Northroup, a tenants’ activist in Copenhagen’s Mjolnerparken housing estate, has dismissed the government characterization of migrant communities as self-isolating and says the government is whipping up public panic “in order to discriminate.”
The proposal by the center-left government is seen as a continuation of the approach of the previous center-right government, which started drawing up a list of neighborhoods designated as “ghettos.”
The largest migrant groups in the country comprise 64,000 Turks, 43,000 Syrians, 33,000 Iraqis, 27,000 Lebanese, 26,000 Pakistanis and 23,000 Bosnians.
Under the plan, some of these migrants would be relocated elsewhere, away from Copenhagen and some of the large cities, which have severe housing shortages.
Denmark’s government says the migrant dilution would help foster social cohesion, curb crime and give migrants better opportunities to assimilate and expose them more to “Danish values.”
“There are a number of large residential areas with high rates of unemployment and crime, a low degree of education and with social and integration problems,” according to Kaare Dybvad Bek, the housing and interior minister.
The goal is that by 2030, there will be no residential area in Denmark that has more than 30 percent of non-Western immigrants and their descendants.
“We have the next 10 years to strike a balance in our integration policies and in the way we live and work together. Otherwise, I think we end up with a two-part society where people withdraw from each other,” Bek told lawmakers earlier this month. “This whole effort is about fighting parallel societies and creating a positive development in residential areas, so that they are made attractive to a broad section of the population,” he added.
Under the initiative, which still needs parliamentary approval, municipalities would be prevented from allocating housing to specific groups in some areas, in order to prevent concentrations of low-income families or people who are not European Union citizens.
Municipalities would also be directed to pay attention to social and income mixes and to maintain a balance. Government ministers say the eviction and relocation of some poorer residents in order to bring in private renters opens up opportunities for "left-behind" residents.
The main opposition group, the center-right Liberal Party, is supportive of the measure, but has raised concerns about the large number of people the government will have to relocate, questioning how the move will be achieved without using force.
Speaking this week in a meeting hosted by Facebook, Bek said, “We need to get better at spreading cultures so that not all perpetrators of violence live together and reinforce the norms they have been accustomed to.” Migrant representatives have pushed back against that characterization, saying crime rates in the so-called troubled neighborhoods are in line with rates elsewhere.
Bek added, “We do not interfere in what people eat or do not eat, or how they arrange themselves, but we believe that people must adapt to the basic values and norms we have in Denmark.”
In a statement, the housing ministry said there is a better chance of that happening by breaking up large concentrations of migrants, creating the circumstances for them to mix more with native Danes.
“The objective is to give every child in Denmark the same life opportunities regardless of the neighborhood they grow up in or of their parents’ background. This means that they have to be exposed to the cultural norms of society as such and not grow up in closed and isolated communities,” the ministry said.
Public sentiment in recent years has turned distinctly against migrants. The far-right Danish People’s party recently proposed that any refugees denied resident permits, and who are deemed to be criminals, should be herded on to a remote island. Race- and religious-based hate crimes have become more frequent in recent years.
The Liberal Party proposed this month that foreign nationals applying to become citizens should face much tougher interviews designed to examine whether they have absorbed “Danish values.” The government has expressed support for the idea.
“Good behavior alone is not enough. If you want to be a Danish citizen, you should have taken Denmark in,” the Liberal Party spokesperson for citizenship, Morten Dahlin, told the newspaper Jyllands-Posten.