Explore More »

Deporting the Victim: The Danish People’s Party’s Radical Solution to a Perceived Threat

Since the Liberal-Conservative Coalition assumed power over Parliament in 2001, Denmark has tightened its immigration legislation on all fronts: citizenship, integration, asylum, family reunification, so on and so forth. All of the stricter new policies passed by the current government have been formulated under the influence of the Danish People’s Party (DPP): a right-wing, populist party that has become equally popular and reviled in Denmark for the hard line it has taken against immigrants. Under the leadership of Pia Kjærsgaard, the DPP has grown into the third largest party in Denmark. It works closely with the Liberal-Conservative Coalition, and its Parliamentary cooperation on most issues affords the ruling parties a great deal of political leverage. In exchange for its support in Parliament, the DPP requires that the Liberal-Conservative Coalition conform to certain political stances, most notably a hard-nosed immigration policy. 

The DPP’s increasingly restrictive immigration policies have made it more than a little notorious, both within Denmark and throughout Europe. But the DPP has also become extremely controversial for its rhetoric and propaganda, which has helped to create the image of immigrants and Muslims as a uniquely dangerous threat facing Danish society and culture. Pia Kjærsgaard has described Islam as “a religion that cherishes violence,” and has more than once compared Muslim female headscarves to the image of a swastika. In 2009, the party launched a major advertising campaign that called for citizens to oppose the construction of a mosque in Copenhagen. The poster displayed a doctored image of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque with two swords crossed over the dome, and bore the caption “No Grand Mosques in Danish Cities.” Another poster in a similar DPP campaign showed a woman dressed in a burqa holding a judge’s gavel. The caption warned that soon Denmark would be ruled by Sharia law.

The DPP has also used much more complex and subtle arguments in its anti-immigration crusade. Still, the us-vs.-them dichotomy remains intact. In relation to non-western foreigners, the DPP has framed the immigration debate as a war between East and West. This ideology has taken monstrous form in the real-life wars Denmark has waged in Iraq and Afghanistan, which over the years have driven tens of thousands of refugees into Europe. A portion of these immigrants, many of them Muslim, settle in Denmark, where certain outspoken politicians then accuse them of promoting an oppressive, violent, imperialist ideology.  This crushing irony is lost on the Danish People’s Party, whose leaders seem obsessed with the idea that Muslims stand in fundamental opposition to Danish values. 

On this point, the DPP is often described as xenophobic, racist, or Islamophobic. Some even charge that their rhetoric strays into hate speech, which is forbidden under Danish law. Thomas Brudholm, a philosopher who specializes in the concept of hatred at the University of Copenhagen’s Institute for Intercultural and Regional Studies, cautions against liberal use of the term. “Hate is a very strong word,” he says, and its application to certain behaviors, language, and attitudes warrants careful consideration. In defining hatred, Brudholm makes fine distinctions, such as the one between hatred and prejudice. “The one who hates has a strong connection to the object he hates. But with prejudice, it is often more superficial. It is possible to be prejudiced against something without being very much interested, obsessed, or invested in it. Hatred, in that sense, can be seen as a kind of extreme prejudice.” Keeping in mind Brudholm’s warning against overuse of the word ‘hateful’, it is still tempting to apply the term to the attitudes of the DPP’s leaders, which have based their entire political platform on criticism of immigrants and Islam. Still, it doesn’t explain why they have done so.

“If you find out, please tell us,” Birgitte Johansen laughs, “We’d really like to know.” Birgitte is a researcher at the Center for European Islamic Thought in Copenhagen. She says that she often wonders why Muslims have been targeted for such harsh criticism, and lists a number of possible reasons for why immigrants in general are perceived as threatening in Denmark. She mentions the welfare state, which many Danes believe is under strain by an influx of poor and uneducated migrants, as well as globalization, which Johansen says gives some people “an experience of general insecurity and uncertainty.” In such an environment, it often becomes easy to point to someone else as the source of all social ills.  A host of other historical, social, and cultural theories abound. “Still,” she says, “they don’t necessarily answer the question, ‘why the Muslims?’”

The mystery of why the DPP is so critical of Muslims is as interesting as the fact that during their influence over the government, more and more accommodations have been made for religious difference and religious expression in the public sphere. This seeming paradox serves as a reminder that the DPP’s rhetoric and policies are only one side of the story, and do not represent Danish politics (or Danish People) as a whole. Parties on the left often resist the restrictive immigration measures advanced by the current government and the DPP. One of these left-leaning parties, the Social Democratic Party, has a good shot at winning the next election, which is set to occur before November. But even if a more liberal government takes power, the changes of the past ten years will be hard to reverse. It will not only prove difficult to repeal or relax certain policies on procedural grounds, it may also be politically untenable for a party that has grown accustomed to following the lead of the DPP.

The Danish public is highly polarized on issues of immigration and multiculturalism, but the complex chorus of opinions is often drowned out by the DPP and their supporters. If nothing else, they know how to get attention, both good and bad. The party’s decidedly politically-incorrect language and policies have proved effective in garnering support from a segment of the population that feels the Danish way of life is under siege from foreign immigrants. In the process of enacting ever stricter immigration legislation, the self-proclaimed defenders of Danish society, Danish identity, and Danish values have managed to reorient the entire political spectrum. By dragging the ruling Liberal-Conservative Coalition farther to the right, they have also brought the left along with them. Though the DPP has met with harsh criticism for what many deem radical, even xenophobic or racist policies and rhetoric, it has more or less unilaterally set the agenda of Denmark’s debate on immigration over the past decade. Having gotten used to being almost purely reactionary to the DPP’s immigration policies, the left will be challenged to reframe the debate by articulating its own vision of multiculturalism in Denmark.

In the meantime, the Danish People’s Party will likely continue to exert a strong influence on the current government, pumping out ever stricter legislation while they still can. It is exciting to consider how Denmark’s immigration policy might transform with a new government, but with an election just around the corner, it is also important to consider where the country is, and why it has gotten there. The truth is that Denmark’s tightening restrictions on immigrants fit into a larger European trend of immigration reform. In many European states, the immigrant (and often, the Muslim immigrant in particular) has come to be perceived by some as singularly threatening to national security, cultural identity, economic stability, social cohesion, even democracy itself. There are no easy answers as to why this is the case, only good guesses that help to explain at least part of the story. Perhaps the most revealing story is the one told by Danish legislation itself. Though it may not tell us why things are the way they are, it does provide some insight into the discrimination imposed on an increasingly marginalized segment of Danish society.

Bill L210, Visitation Zones, and the Offensive Weapons Act: An Unholy Trinity

It is not always easy to separate the topic of immigration from the topic of crime, at least in Denmark. Proponents of a stricter policy on immigration often conflate the two issues, and they take every opportunity to remind the public that most gang crime in Copenhagen is committed by ethnic minorities. Interestingly enough, these politicians never consider that marginalizing disadvantaged ethnic youth to the fringes of society might have that effect. Their view on the matter is much simpler than that, and their response to it tends to be reactionary and punitive. 

The sum of various legislation advanced by these politicians, much of which is centered around combating crime, makes living in Denmark highly problematic for foreigners. Sometimes this is an unintended effect of the law, and sometimes not. Still, the reason why the laws are in place is less important than how they impact people on the ground. Three relatively new pieces of legislation, all enacted within the past decade, illustrate the precarious position that foreigners find themselves in. All three of these laws have the stated purpose of cutting down on crime, which makes them much easier to defend on seemingly neutral grounds. But their combined effect is anything but neutral, and it is not confined to gang members. In combination with one another, Bill L201, visitation zones, and the Offensive Weapons Act make carrying a simple household cutting tool an easily prosecuted, extraditable offense for those who lack Danish citizenship.


On Friday, June 24th, Danish Parliament once again tightened its immigration policy by making deportation the standard punishment for any foreigner who is convicted of a crime that entails a prison sentence. Bill L210 passed by a wide margin thanks to support from across the political spectrum, including several parties on the left who usually vote against stricter immigration measures. Søren Pind, Denmark’s Minister of Integration, proposed the new bill, allegedly for the purpose of combating a wave of gang crime. However, the bill does not specifically address gang crime, or even violent crime in general. The bill requires deportation for any offense committed by a foreigner that results in a prison sentence, no matter how brief. Under Bill L210, criminal foreigners will only be exempt from deportation if judges determine that it would violate Denmark’s international obligations.

In this case, Denmark’s international obligations would include those established by the United Nations’ Convention Against Torture (UNCAT), ratified in 1985. The convention requires, among other things, that signatories work actively to prevent torture and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment or punishment within their own countries. But  under UNCAT, a state is also obliged to remain vigilant of torture practices that occur outside its borders. Article 3 of the convention expressly forbids states from deporting or extraditing a person to a country where there are “substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture.” When considering this, they must also assess the risk of torture that a deportee would face in any state to which he may subsequently be expelled.

Denmark’s new sanctions for criminal foreigners change how judges evaluate the risk assessments outlined in Article 3 of UNCAT. Before Bill L210, the offender benefitted from the court’s uncertainty that he would be tortured if deported to another country. Courts erred on the safe side, preferring to keep a criminal in the country rather than run the risk of exposing him to inhumane treatment. When in doubt, they were obliged to not deport, not expose the offender to the risk of torture, and thereby not violate UNCAT’s guidelines regarding expulsion. However, Bill L210 says that judges must deport a foreigner who is sentenced to jail time, unless judges are absolutely certain that deportation would result in a violation of the United Nations Convention Against Torture.

According to Bjørn Elmquist, a Danish lawyer and journalist, Bill L210 is itself a violation of UNCAT. “This new law attacks the principle of giving a deportee the benefit of the doubt. It says that you must be certain that this person will be subjected to torture if deported. And if you’re not certain, you must deport.” The issue of certainty may prove to be the most contentious part of the new deportation bill. Because it is difficult to determine with any certainty whether or not a person will be subjected to torture in another country, UNCAT urges states to err in favor of the deportee. While a state can never be absolutely sure what will happen to a person if he or she is deported to another country, they can be quite sure that the deportee will experience lifelong pain and torment if subjected to torture. 

But Elmquist calls Bill L210 “a very bad arrangement” not only because it violates the safeguards outlined by Article 3 of UNCAT. According to him, it also represents a breach of Danish Constitutional law. By telling judges that they must deport criminal foreigners, Parliament has effectively “tied the hands of the judges,” and therefore overstepped the separation of powers outlined in the Danish Constitution.

The new deportation bill is only the latest in a series of controversial laws that have made Denmark’s immigration policy one of the strictest in Europe. But more are on the way. The next tightening of policy is set to take place on July 1st of this year, when Danish Parliament will enact a new version of its family reunification requirements. Denmark’s family reunification policy is already highly restrictive, especially after revisions that came into effect on January 1st of this year. The changes set to take effect on July 1st include an increased deposit and application fee, which amount to 106,000 Danish Kroner (a little more than $20,000). Applicants must also pass a more rigorous language test and point evaluation, which grades applicants based on their education, work experience, language proficiency, and a whole host of other criteria. Politiken, the largest newspaper in Denmark, reports that similar reforms in Germany and the Netherlands caused the amount of reunification applications drop by between 25-40%. Lars Kyhnau Hansen, the chairman of Marriage without Borders, predicts that the July 1st reforms will cause Denmark to experience “something close to a complete stop” in applications.

These increasingly harsh requirements are part of a larger transformation in Danish immigration policy that has taken place under the influence of the Danish People’s Party. But these tightened rules for family reunification and deportation are just the laws that deal explicitly with immigration. Other legislation—sometimes seemingly benign—works in combination with these policies to make life increasingly hazardous for foreigners in Denmark.

Not least of these has been the introduction of visitation zones, which have been legal in Denmark since 2004. Aimed at preventing crime, particularly gang crime that involves the use of knives, this provision gives the District Commissioner’s Office the freedom to designate a public area as temporarily exempt from standard police protocol for the purpose of performing random stops-and-searches without the requirement of reasonable suspicion. Danish law clearly states that visitation zones should only cover a clearly delineated area and not, for example, an entire municipality. However, police procedure in this regard has gone more or less unchecked. Between 2008 and 2009 the District Commissioner’s Office imposed visitation zones that at different times covered all of the municipalities of Copenhagen, Frederiksberg, and part of Tårnby. And although these zones are by definition temporary, some have become near permanent, being imposed on entire neighborhoods for several years at a time. 

Within visitation zones, police have free reign to stop and search anyone, and the unchecked discretion of police leaves minority groups especially susceptible to unwarranted searches. Although racial profiling would violate Denmark’s administrative equality principle, which bans differential treatment on the basis of race or ethnic origin, Danish law contains no written prohibition of racial profiling or discrimination by police. Since there is no practical measure to ensure profiling does not occur, and no meaningful recourse for those who suspect it has, Denmark’s tacit ban on differential treatment amounts to little more than a token commitment to non-discrimination. Furthermore, because police do not record the race of people who are stopped or arrested, there is no data proving that police are not targeting ethnic minorities. But studies performed in other countries have found evidence to support the claim that race plays a huge role in similar, supposedly random stop-and-search zones. A study of racial profiling in UK and Wales, for instance, found that black people are 26.6 times more likely to be stopped than whites. Similar trends appear in many other European countries and the United States.

Visitation zones aren’t the only method that Parliament has used to crack down on gang violence. The Offensive Weapons Act passed with almost unanimous Parliamentary support after a wave of crimes involving knives, the most severe of which was the lethal stabbing of an Italian tourist in Copenhagen in the summer of 2003. Citing public safety concerns, a political majority aimed to target gang crime by outlawing the possession of knives in public space. The ban includes some exceptions, such as those used for fishing and carpentry, and is mostly concerned with limiting the possession of knives with retractable or folding blades. For the most part, fixed blades are permitted. An interesting exception to this rule is the ban on Kirpans: dull, fixed-blade ceremonial knives that orthodox Sikhs carry as an article of faith. Ultimately, it is left to the police to decide if a person has good reason to possess a cutting tool that could otherwise be used as a weapon. And although the stated purpose of the ban is to protect the public, that isn’t always how it works in practice.

In September 2009, Politiken reported that a 19-year-old Serb named Haris Cehic was arrested in a visitation zone after police found two work-related box-cutter knives in his car door compartment. Cehic used the knives for his job stocking shelves at a gas station, and stowed them in his car after realizing that he had accidentally left work without taking them out of his pocket. Though initially charged with a fine of DKK 3,000, Cehic eventually received seven days in prison for the offense. He had hoped to become a citizen the next year and one day join the police force, but his new criminal record made that impossible. The Social Liberal Justice Spokeswoman Lone Dybkjær took Cehic’s arrest and sentencing as evidence that the ban on knives had gone too far. Speaking to Politiken, Dybkjær said that “the proposal was crazy precisely because it could hit someone like this young man. When you are given a sentence of seven days in prison, you’re more or less finished in this society in a wide range of situations.” Still, it could have been worse for Cehic. If Bill L210 had been in place, he would likely have been deported from Denmark.

Unchecked police discrimination in visitation zones and a mandatory sentence for the possession of common cutting tools creates a precarious situation for foreigners living in Denmark. But with the introduction of Søren Pind’s new deportation rules, the situation becomes downright dangerous. All three of these laws are aimed first and foremost at criminals, not necessarily immigrants. However, such laws make immigrants of an ethnic background extremely vulnerable to life-altering sanctions. They are more likely to be targeted by police, and can face deportation for even minor offenses. And although foreigners are not necessarily more likely to carry knives, the mandatory seven day sentence required by the Offensive Weapons Act is a good example of an overly restrictive law that could result in the deportation of an otherwise law-abiding resident.

The fact that these laws focus specifically on criminality makes them much easier to defend on seemingly neutral grounds, but their combined effect can have disproportionately harsh consequences for foreigners in Denmark. The unholy trinity of Bill L210, visitation zones, and the Offensive Weapons Act represents the culmination of 10 years of ever more restrictive policies on crime and immigration, most of which have been formulated and passed by the DPP. These policies are a testament to the role that the party has played in Parliament over the past 10 years, but they also reflect the its deep distrust of foreigners’ presence in Danish society and culture. With elections on the way,  Danes will have the opportunity to begin the process of reversing the past ten years of legislation, assuming they want to. But for Haris Cehic and many others, that change will come too late.



Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. United Nations, 10 December 1984.

Ethnic Profiling in the European Union: Pervasive, Ineffective, and Discriminatory. Rep. Open Society Institute, 2009. Web. 26 June 2011.

"Fewer Seek Family Reunions to Denmark." Politiken. 22 June 2011. Web. 22 June 2011.

Hockenos, Paul. "Europe's New Populism: Islamophobia." IP Global. German Council on Foreign Relations, 1 Apr. 2011. Web. 27 June 2011.

Parallel Report July 2010 to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. Issue brief. Danish Institute of Human Rights, July 2010. Web. 25 June 2011.

"SF'er Frustrated with the Party Line: We've Said Yes to Crap Contracts." Politiken. 24 June 2011. Web. 25 June 2011.

"SocLibs: Knife Law Gone Too Far." Politiken. 3 Sept. 2009. Web. 24 June 2011.

Zarreparvar, Mandana, and Susanne Nour, eds. Ethnic Profiling in Denmark - Legal Safeguards within the Field of Work of the Police. Rep. The Danish Institute of Human Rights, 2011. Web. 26 June 2011.

Interviews Conducted

Thomas Brudholm, Researcher, Institute for Intercultural and Regional Studies, Copenhagen University. Copenhagen, DK. 24, June 2011.

Birgitte Johansen, Researcher, Center for European Islamic Thought. Copenhagen, DK. 24, June 2011.

Bjørn Elmquist, Lawyer. Copenhagen, DK. 26, June 2011.

Explore More »

Share this Article

About This Article

HIA Program:

Denmark Denmark 2011


Related Media

Break Ground
by Alice Minor, Denmark 2011
The Gay Agenda
by Kevin Ramser, Denmark 2011
Browse all content