Plans to socially re-arrange poor ‘non-Western’ neighbourhoods are jeopardizing Denmark’s reputation as a socially responsible country, Jamila Versi, from the Almen Modstand group says.
Copenhagen’s Mjolnerparken neighbourhood soon will feel the impact of the state’s so-called “Ghetto Package” of laws first adopted in 2018.
The government has earmarked over 200 apartments for sale under this law and announced evictions in this poor neighbourhood of the capital, which is home to about 1,600 people, of whom 80 per cent are of immigrant background and of a mostly poor socio-economic status.
“I think of Susanne Poulsen who has an eight-year-old daughter. Her daughter will be taken from her school, her friends, and her community if her family is evicted,” Jamila Versi, a coordinator of the Almen Modstand activist group, told BIRN, concerning of those likely to be affected by the changes.
The Almen Modstand movement, which emerged in response to the government’s so-called “ghetto” legislation, advocates affordable housing and works with Mjolnerparken residents to oppose the government’s plans to evict some of them.
They have already taken the first step. On May 27, the residents filed a lawsuit against the government disputing the Danish legislation as unlawful under EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights. They claim the government is violating their rights to equality, respect for home, property, and freedom to choose their own residence.
“They don’t want Mjölnerparken to change. They love it as it is, it is a beloved and supporting community that always helps each other out,” Versi explained.
“The atmosphere is so warm and welcoming. They speak with their fellow residents daily and they do not agree with what the government is doing with their eviction plan. This is why the residents filed a lawsuit to stop the evictions, and raise awareness with the Danish public that this is happening,” she added.
Versi, who is also an anthropologist, journalist and a film maker, says the community has became even more mutually supportive due to the common threat of eviction.
“One recurring activity is the Neighbour Café every Monday evening. Residents started the café around six months ago in response to the evictions,” she noted. “The community is strong and even though this is a tough time, we find room to connect to each other.”
Concept of ‘non-Western’ origins seen as discriminatory:
The government’s plan, described as standing for “one Denmark without a parallel society – no ghettos in 2030” allows it to designate an area as a ghetto based on the percentage of those in it who are employed and educated, their income and the proportion with criminal convictions.
An area is then labelled a “ghetto” if more than 50 per cent of residents are immigrants from or descendants of people from “non-Western countries”.
But the concept of “non-Western” excludes mainly white countries like Australia and New Zealand, which Versi sees as discriminatory, targeting people based on race, religion, and ethnic origin.
The UN Committee on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights and the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has also expressed concerns about the use of this term.
It warned that Denmark’s reference to “non-Western descendants” sends a message that may have a counter-effect to their feeling of belonging and forming an integral part of Danish society.
“They have both called on the Danish authorities to take action, including a recommendation by the UN Committee to remove it [the term] from legislation on the basis that it is discriminatory and further marginalises residents,” Versi said.
“If the ‘ghetto package’ does include some concept of integration and bringing people together, these measures don’t do that. On the contrary, they are alienating,” she added.
Threat to an admired system of social housing:
Denmark has for decades been considered one of the world’s most socially responsible country, and was admired for its not-for-profit social housing system, which is based on the principle of tenants’ democracy and makes up about 20 per cent of the total housing stock in the country.
However, according to new law, in a neighbourhood designated as “hard ghetto”, only 40 per cent of homes can continue to have social housing status and the rest must be privatized. The aim is to change the class and ethnic structure of the neighbourhoods and boost integration – but also generate profits.
Denmark’s Ministry of Transport, Building and Housing is making lists of “ghettoes”. The most recent list includes 28 areas.
“The government believed at the time that the reduction of common family housing would entail both an activity increase in the construction industry as a result of the demolition of common housing and the development of private housing and an increased turnover for businesses in property management as a result of the conversion to private housing,” Versi claimed.
The proposed changes also come at a time when housing is becoming less affordable in Denmark.
Recent reports of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have noted that private investments in housing have exacerbated a trend towards rising rents in Denmark, suggesting that the country should increase its stock of affordable housing – opposite to what the government is doing.
Versi says evictions in Copenhagen’s Mjolnerparken could mark a point of no return that could deeply damage the progressive image of Denmark.
“Common family housing is a particularly Danish form of housing based on principles of democracy, egalitarianism and affordable housing for all. If we lose Mjolnerparken and mass-evict long-standing residents, we are slowly eroding these values,” she asserted.
According to her, the government did not consider the residents’ own views or alternative plans to avoid evictions – and also it is unclear where the residents will be offered rehousing or how much rent they will have to pay in future.
She hopes their lawsuit can turn things around, as “the state must not act in a way that is discriminatory or which breaches fundamental rights such as the right to respect for homes.
“That is why a declaration is being sought that the plan is unlawful under Danish law, EU law and the European Convention on Human Rights,” she said.
“We need the public to support our campaign and lift up residents’ voices, who are asking to save their homes. Now is the time to get rid of the eviction plans and the ‘ghetto package’ – if the government wishes to maintain Denmark’s reputation as a socially responsible country,” she concluded.