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Denmark: New statistics category for migrants from Muslim countries

The Danish Minister for Immigration and Integration, Mattias Tesfaye, has introduced a new classification for ethnic minorities in Denmark, singling out people from North Africa and the Middle East in statistics with reference to higher crime rates and lower employment rates.

A person is not considered Danish by Denmark's Statistics for holding a Danish passport, but only if s/he has in addition at least one parent who is a Danish citizen and was born in Denmark. Anyone else is defined as an 'immigrant' or 'descendant', and further divided into two categories: Western and non-Western.

Relatedly, Denmark has perhaps the strictest rules in Europe for obtaining citizenship, which is only granted to around 4 000 people every year (most of them from other European countries). Among Copenhagen's inhabitants, 18% do not have citizenship.

'Western countries' are understood to be: all EU countries plus Andorra, Australia, Canada, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland, United Kingdom, United Sates and the Vatican.

In the future, the ministry will make a further distinction between the 24 so-called MENAPT countries and the 166 other non-Western countries. The Danish list of 'MENAPT countries' comprises: Syria, Kuwait, Libya, Saudi-Arabia, Lebanon, Somalia, Iraq, Qatar, Sudan, Bahrain, Djibouti, Jordan, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Iran, Yemen, Mauretania, Oman, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkey.

MENA/MENAPT are lists of countries used internationally, but there is no common definition. The short version is only 18 countries, but includes Israel, which is not on the Danish list. The longer version includes several non-Muslim countries based geographically in West Africa, former Soviet territory and Europe.

The Danish list is generally based on North Africa and the Middle East, but only includes predominantly Muslim countries. Eritrea and Ethiopia (not predominantly Muslim) are not on the list, though they are geographically placed between Egypt, Somalia and Djibouti (predominantly Muslim), which are on the list.

"These new numbers will give a more honest political discussion about the minority of migrants who are very big challenges in our society," said Mattias Tesfaye. "Fundamentally they show that we in Denmark don't really have problems with people from Latin America and the Far East. We have problems with people from the Middle East and North Africa".

The minister's statement was met with ironic comments on social media such as "Amazing, why not give them a little symbol to stitch on their clothes, so we can keep an eye on them?". Ethnic minorities in Denmark are generally very frustrated over being stigmatised and only mentioned in negative contexts, especially the Muslim population.

Halima El Abassi, chairwoman of the Danish Council for Ethnic Minorities, criticised the minister's new classification for focusing on what separates the population instead of what unites it.

According to examples presented by the ministry, women from MENAPT countries had an employment rate of 41.9% in 2018, compared to 61.6% for women from other non-Western countries. Rates for criminal convictions of young men in 2018 were 4.6% for MENAPT countries and 1.8% for other non-Western countries. The ministry notes that education, age, length of stay and residence status (i.e. asylum) might affect the numbers, which has not been taken into account.

The new distinction will not be used by Denmark's Statistics, but only by the ministry in answers to questions from Parliament, in the annual Citizen Survey and the Integration Barometer.

Read more in English on The Local.