Geneva – The Swedish Immigration Minister’s call to put a 50 percent cap on “non-Nordic citizens” in so-called “troubled areas” is a textbook recipe for discrimination, incitement, and counterproductive punitive measures, emanating from political expediency rather than sound policymaking, Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said in a statement today. The Swedish government must immediately and unconditionally cease any plans of such nature.

On Monday, Sweden’s Immigration Minister Anders Ygeman told local newspaper Dagens Nyheter that districts with a majority of inhabitants from non-Nordic countries (immigrants from countries other than Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, and Norway) are a problem for Sweden. “I think it’s bad to have areas where the majority have a non-Nordic origin”, he told the DN.

As a starting point, the minister suggested a 50 percent limit on concentrations of people with immigrant backgrounds in so-called “troubled areas”. Using the need to acquire Swedish language skills as justification, the minister claimed that it is “hugely more difficult to learn and develop the [Swedish] language” in such areas.

   It is shameful to see the Swedish government sliding into a populist abyss in which singling out and targeting vulnerable foreigners is used for electoral aims   

Dr. Ramy Abdu, Chairman of Euro-Med Monitor

However, this particular rhetoric—regarding the sheer presence of clusters of immigrant populations as the root cause of social problems in these areas—essentially fuels racial prejudice, xenophobia, and intolerance. This line of thinking, in turn, threatens to impede any potential for sound policymaking, as it will entrap Swedish political parties in a cycle of rhetorical competitiveness centered around who would be tougher on the “troubled areas”.

This is a seriously dangerous, slippery slope. Once the Swedish government establishes this discriminatory goal as a legitimate one, the implementation of harshly punitive policies in the name of achieving the goal will likely follow. The singling out of such areas and subsequently making inhabitants feel stigmatized, threatened, vulnerable, and unwelcome—merely for being non-Nordic citizens—is the antithesis of integration.

“It is shameful to see the Swedish government sliding into a populist abyss in which singling out and targeting vulnerable foreigners is used for electoral aims”, said Dr. Ramy Abdu, Chairman of Euro-Med Monitor. “Forceful assimilation, coercion, punitive policies, and an approach of ‘toughness’ are never the answer, but rather fuel a negative image of foreigners in society that essentially impedes their integration. Integrating foreigners into the country should be done through offering incentives, creating a welcoming and positive atmosphere, and facilitating their inclusion in society and the labor market”.

In a recent brief report entitled “Disguised Racism”, Euro-Med Monitor examined the alleged merits of Denmark’s “ghetto list” and concluded that since its inception in 2010, the list has been part of the problem and not the solution. In taking into account the flawed and discriminatory criteria that disproportionately target individuals of non-European ethnicities, it is clear that with its heavily punitive and counter-productive policies and very stigmatizing name, the “ghetto list” only fuels existing xenophobia, racial prejudice, and intolerance against vulnerable minorities.

Denmark’s “anti-ghetto law” aims to reduce the number of people of “non-Western origin” in designated “vulnerable areas” to less than 30 percent, through evictions, double punishment, over-policing, and compulsory daycare. The rhetoric involved and the associated policies sow fear, insecurity, mistrust, and resistance among the groups it targets, and stands in violation of the European Convention on Human Rights and EU law vis-à-vis the rights to non-discrimination, equality, and adequate housing, as well as the right of equality before the law and equal treatment before tribunals.