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What to Know About Denmark’s Controversial Plan to Eradicate Immigrant “Ghettos”

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Pupils in 24 Danish schools will be “guinea pigs” for a new policy aimed at integrating non-Western immigrants into Danish society. From 2019, it will become law for schools that take more than 30 percent of their students from “ghetto” areas to force their students to take language tests.

Denmark‘s government currently lists 22 areas as “ghettos,” areas with social problems where more than 50% of residents are non-Western immigrants.

According to the Copenhagen Post, Students from those 24 schools will undergo Danish tests in the coming months—making them some of the first to be affected by the Danish government’s new sweeping laws aimed at eradicating immigrant “ghettos” by 2030.

“There are a number of parents who come from the Middle East who have a totally different understanding of pedagogy, childhood and school than their Scandinavian counterparts,” said Merete Riisager, the Danish minister of education, according to the Post.

Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen had previously announced in his New Year speech that the government intended to take measures to “end the existence of ghettos” completely. That was followed by an announcement in March that the government would pursue a new set of laws to will “deal with parallel societies.”

While it’s not the first time the government has tried to abolish “ghettos,” the latest raft of laws mean the government will specifically target these areas—proactively enforcing rules aimed at integrating non-Western, predominantly Muslim immigrants into Danish society.

Many of the country’s 500,000 non-Western immigrants—largely from Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan and Somalia—live in these so-called ghettos. There, politicians say, “Danishness” is threatened by the prevalence of other languages and cultural traditions.

To many immigrants, the plans feel like a thinly-veiled way of telling them they are not welcome in Denmark. Hardline policy on immigration has become the new political consensus; even the typically pro-immigration Social Democrat party, Denmark’s largest opposition party, has supported the government’s anti-ghetto plans in an effort to win back voters deserting the party over immigration concerns.

Here, more on exactly what the new policies involve.

Obligatory daycare

One of the most contentious aspects of the plans is the forced enrolment of children from “ghetto” areas in classes from the age of 1 that teach “Danish values” and the Danish language. Such classes would run for a minimum of 30 hours per week, according to government plans.

While Danish parents are not obliged to enrol their own children, parents in “ghettos” who fail to do so could have their child benefit payments stopped by municipalities.

Demolition and redevelopment

The new laws allow the government to instruct certain ghettos be demolished. “For certain ghetto areas,” the plans say, “the challenges of parallel society, crime and insecurity are so massive that it is both practical and economical to [demolish] the ghetto area and start over again.” The government has set aside more than $1.8 billion for the demolition or conversion of ghetto areas until 2026.

The plans assert that part of the reason for social problems in ghettos is the prevalence of “family homes,” and that private investors should be allowed to construct “new housing types” in struggling areas to address this. The plans also make it easier for landlords to evict tenants, in order to speed up the government’s regeneration strategy.

Tougher criminal punishments in certain areas

Under the new plans, crimes such as vandalism or theft will be punished twice as harshly if they occur within ghetto boundaries as opposed to outside them. For crimes that already have high penalties, the punishment will be increased by one third. And if a crime is normally punished with a fine, imprisonment can be levied if it occurs inside a ghetto. The plans also state that more police will be deployed to the streets of the areas under most pressure.

Lowering benefits within ghettos

Immigrants who settle in Denmark can claim benefits with few strings attached. But one of the new laws states that immigrants who live within ghetto boundaries should receive lower benefits—thereby making it “economically less attractive” to live in ghetto areas.

Incentives for reducing unemployment

Unemployment is a serious problem in these areas; the government says a third of non-Western immigrants have been out of work or school for four of the last five years.

To tackle this, the government has announced that municipalities which succeed in getting immigrants into employment will be rewarded financially, to the tune of nearly $8,000 per worker.

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Write to Billy Perrigo at billy.perrigo@time.com