STOCKHOLM – A group of Copenhagen residents sued the Danish government Wednesday over legislation that authorized dismantling neighborhoods designated as “ghettos," arguing that the measures discriminate on the basis of ethnicity and should be overturned in court.
The legislation, adopted in 2018 for the stated purpose of reducing residential segregation, permitted actions such as the eviction of some residents and the sale of homes to private investors to reduce the amount of affordable public housing in these areas to a maximum of 40% by 2030.
The lawsuit centers on the criteria the government uses to decide what qualifies as a ghetto. The factors include education and income levels, crime rates and a demographic makeup in which "the proportion of immigrants and their descendants from non-Western countries exceeds 50%.”
Under the government's definition, a poor neighborhood with high crime and low education would not be considered a ghetto if people born in Denmark and their descendants comprise more than half of the population.
“The decisive criteria is the ethnicity of the tenants and residents,” said Eddie Khawaja, the attorney for the plaintiffs from Copenhagen's Mjoelnerparken neighborhood, one of the areas declared as a ghetto. “This raises issues under Danish and EU law."
The Danish Ministry of Transport and Housing acknowledged a request for comment from The Associated Press but did not provide a response to the lawsuit or the lawyer's assertion.
The residents named in the lawsuit are all Danish citizens and include people of various ethnicities and races, including white. They say the measures are alienating and risk creating a lesser class of Danes based on ethnicity and skin color.
“This is where my three kids have grown up and this is where I want to grow old,” said Asif Mahmut, who moved to Denmark from Pakistan and has lived in Mjoelnerparken for 27 years. “This is my home, and I want to fight for it.”
Along with evictions and the sale of public housing, the 2018 legislation allowed double punishments for crimes in certain neighborhoods, made daycare for children mandatory starting at age 1 to teach them Danish values and a requirement for municipalities to inform eligible residents about repatriation opportunities.