Denmark announces youth crime plan aimed at people with immigrant backgrounds

The Danish government says it wants to crack down on crime and antisocial behaviour by youths and has specifically pointed its finger at young people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Denmark announces youth crime plan aimed at people with immigrant backgrounds
Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye. Photo: Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix

People from immigrant backgrounds who are tempted by crime must make a choice about their part in society, immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye said as the Danish government outlined its plan to tackle antisocial youth behaviour.

The issue was named specifically by Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen in her speech at the opening of parliament this week.

Frederiksen has also previously accused young people with immigrant backgrounds (indvandrerunge in Danish) of being the most common perpetrators of antisocial behaviour at places such as train stations or on metropolitan trains (S-tog).

Tesfaye elaborated on the government’s position, putting in blunt terms the “choice” faced by young people within the demographic.

“That choice does not need more well-meaning integration projects. The choice takes five minutes, and it is yours,” Tesfaye said at a briefing reported by DR.

The minister said that young people should choose to find work such as supermarket checkout jobs instead of turning to petty crime.

“And don’t say Danish companies are racist. I hear that all the time. I’ve also applied for internships with a weird name and it didn’t make things easier, but it can be done,” said Tesfaye, who is the son of an Ethiopian immigrant but has a traditionally Danish first name.

A 2019 report by the Danish Center for Social Science Research (VIVE) found that children and young people from underprivileged housing areas commit crime more often than their peers, but the difference fell between 2011 and 2017.

In 2011 there were almost four times more suspicions against 10-14-year-olds in underprivileged housing areas compared to the national average. In 2017, that had fallen by 27 percent, to almost three times more. Social initiatives were cited as a possible factor in the improvement.

The study also found that parents with criminal records more often have children who commit crime.

The government presented four specific measures it said were aimed at tackling youth crime and antisocial behaviour.

These include making it easier for landlords to evict tenants convicted of crime; nightlife curfews on people with convictions for violence; assembly bans in specified areas for set periods of time; and on-the-spot confiscation of valuables from persons with unpaid debt to the state.

Minister of Justice Nick Hækkerup noted that the size of the debt and whether it is in arrears would be taken into account and that people “carrying around an SU debt and paying it off” will not be the target of the proposed law.

“I know that there are also ethnic Danes who commit serious crimes, but the statistics on young people with Middle Eastern backgrounds do not lie to us. We have a problem and we need to tackle it, and no, it’s not society’s fault,” Tesfaye said.

People from ethnic minority backgrounds in Denmark are more likely to live in underprivileged areas. However, Denmark also uses ethnic demographics in its official criteria for classing an area as a 'ghetto'.

Tesfaye also had strong words for parents of young people who commit antisocial crimes, as he sought to justify enabling families to be evicted from social housing on the basis of the criminal conviction of a single member.

“Your kids are ruining their youth by wandering around and acting out down by the kebab place or at the station. They risk a future behind bars. Where are you? Turn off the TV, draw the curtains and take some responsibility for the community you live in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Danish minister hails 'lovely numbers' as refugees leave

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Danish government tables bill for offshore asylum centres as ministers return from Rwanda

A bill tabled by the Danish government and visit to Rwanda by Danish ministers has fuelled speculation Copenhagen plans to open an offshore asylum centre in the African country.

Danish government tables bill for offshore asylum centres as ministers return from Rwanda
Sjælsmark, a Danish 'departure centre' for rejected asylum seekers, photographed in August 2020. Photo: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix

Immigration minister Mattias Tesfaye and international development minister Flemming Møller Mortensen this week travelled to Rwanda where they signed an agreement with the Rwandan government. 

The trip was surrounded by an element of secrecy, with the ministers initially refusing to speak to Danish media and only the Rwandan foreign ministry officially publicising it.

READ ALSO: Danish ministers visit Rwanda but stay quiet on agreement

The two ministers landed back in Copenhagen on Thursday afternoon, the same day the government tabled a new bill sub-titled “Introduction of the option to transfer asylum seekers for processing and possible subsequent protection in third countries”.

Commenting on the Rwandan trip for the first time, Tesfaye declined to confirm the talks included discussion of an asylum centre. The government wants “discussions to take place in confidentiality”, he told broadcaster DR. He also rejected a connection to the bill, tabled by his ministry on Thursday, DR writes.

“It’s correct that it’s the government’s wish to establish a new asylum system where processing of asylum claims is moved out of Denmark. We are in dialogue with a number of countries about that,” the minister also said.

The agreement signed in Rwanda is “a framework on future partnerships” related to “environment and climate”, he said, adding “on the Danish side, we wish to manage migration in a better and fairer way. We have agreed to pursue this.”

Denmark’s Social Democratic government has a long-standing desire to establish a reception centre for refugees in a third country.

Rwanda in 2019 built a centre for asylum seekers stranded in Libya, but that centre has received a limited number of asylum seekers so far, DR reports based on UN data.

The Danish foreign ministry earlier confirmed that the two countries have agreed to work more closely on asylum and migration.

“This is not a case of a binding agreement, but a mutual framework for future partnership. The two governments will spend the coming period discussing concrete areas where the partnership can be strengthened,” the ministry wrote to DR.

The Danish Refugee Council criticised the bill, tweeting that “transfer of asylum seekers to a third country, as (proposed) in (parliament) today is irresponsible, lacks solidarity and should be condemned”.

“Over 80 million people have been driven from their homes while Denmark has a historically low number of asylum seekers. In that light it’s shameful that the government is trying to buy its way out of the responsibility for protecting refugees… it sets a dangerous example,” the NGO added.

The UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency, has also responded to the law proposed by the government on Thursday.

The implementation of such a law would “rely on an agreement with a third country”, the UNHCR noted.

The agency wrote that it “strongly urges Denmark to refrain from establishing laws and practices that would externalize its asylum obligations” under UN conventions.

READ ALSO: Denmark registered record low number of asylum seekers in 2020