Living in Denmark's 'ghettos' immigrants feel stigmatized and shut out

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Denmark's ghettos
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Denmark's ghettos
Hussein, 36, originally from Pakistan, takes a break from studying for his PhD in his apartment in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Batul and Jenan sit together on a swing in a park in Mimersparken, a recently designed urban renewal space next to Mjolnerparken which is a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Salim El-Chahabi, an inhabitant of Mjolnerparken, where he works as a youth job coordinator, stands in the doorway of his work shed that he dubs "The White House" as he assigns duties in the Mjolnerparken area of Copenhagen, Denmark, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Resident Raouf Al-Hilw, originally from Iraq, practices with his football team F.C. Babylon which is made up of people of Iraqi decent, on a football pitch next to Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Ibtisam Ashur, a resident of Mjolnerparken which is a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", throws a stone during an excursion to the seaside with "Sjakket", a youth group that provides activities and support for children that live in socially vulnerable areas of Copenhagen's north-west area in Denmark, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Islamic paraphernalia sits amongst tools in the workshop of Mohammed, 31, a lifelong resident of Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
A worker stands beside a Danish flag on a construction site of new housing being built next to Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Hussein, 36, originally from Pakistan, studies for his PhD in his apartment in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Women gather in Cafe Nora, a social club for women that runs Monday to Thursday in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Mohammed Aslam, the elected chairperson of Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", poses for a photograph in the estate's public space in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
A group of women of Somali descent react as they play rounders in a park in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
A group of women of Somali descent play rounders in a park in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 12, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Night falls over Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Hijabs for sale sit on mannequin heads in a specialty hijab store beside Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
A woman stands on a terrace in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Women look at an IKEA catalogue as they gather in Cafe Nora, a social club for women that runs Monday to Thursday in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Senior residents prepare to eat their evening meal in their communal dining area in block designated for seniors in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Men sit in The Grand Mosque of Copenhagen, officially known as the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Center, a Sunni mosque popular with residents of nearby Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Residents walk over a landscape feature in Superkilen, a park designed as part of an urban design renewal scheme that runs along the side of Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
A woman rides by Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Blocks of houses are seen in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 8, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
John Khan, originally from Pakistan and now a resident in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", takes a telephone call in his bicycle shop, Alaska Cykler in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Police patrol the grounds in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Guests from places within Denmark and Northern Europe sit together at the engagement party of a resident in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Guests from places within Denmark and Northern Europe sit together at the engagement party of a resident in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 6, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
A group participates in a Zumba-style fitness class, catered for women in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
Zaynab (C) who lives in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", sits with her friends Amira and Sabrina in Superkilen, a recently designed urban renewal park that runs beside Mjolnerparken, in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 3, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Amnah Hamad (L), who is from Palestine and has lived in Denmark for 30 years, learns to speak Danish from teacher Anni Olsen who, as part of a group of seniors, volunteers to teach Danish to immigrants in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Hanan Mohamed, 14, completes her math homework as part of an after school program in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
A woman rides a bicycle past a hijab store near Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Mudasir Khan, originally from Pakistan, sits with his nephew Yaeesh Rao Khan in Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Men participate in the Friday prayer or the Prayer of Jummah in The Grand Mosque of Copenhagen, officially known as the Hamad Bin Khalifa Civilisation Center, a Sunni mosque popular with residents of nearby Mjolnerparken, a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List" in Copenhagen, Denmark, May 11, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
Ibtisam Ashur, a resident of Mjolnerparken which is a housing estate that features on the Danish government's "Ghetto List", rides a bus during an excursion to the seaside with "Sjakket", a youth group that provides activities and support for children that live in socially vulnerable areas of Copenhagen's north-west area in Denmark, May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly 
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COPENHAGEN, May 29 (Reuters) - In urban areas of Denmark officially designated as "ghettos," some residents feel stigmatized and excluded from mainstream society.

Denmark is the only country to formally classify certain residential zones as ghettos. An area fits into the category if more than half of its inhabitants originate from non-Western countries and it also matches certain other criteria, such as unemployment exceeding 40 percent.

"When journalists come here I want to talk about the good things, but they're not interested. They are interested in gangs, conflict and ghettos. It saddens me," said Salim El-Chahabi, a Palestinian who came to Denmark in 1999 and works as a youth job coordinator in the Copenhagen ghetto of Mjolnerparken.

"Only a few people create chaos, the rest of the inhabitants are good, polite family people. Unfortunately, a few people have ruined things for us."

Denmark has struggled for decades with how to integrate immigrants into its welfare state. The public debate intensified in 2015 with the arrival of large groups of refugees from conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa. The anti-immigrant Danish People's Party became the second-largest party in parliament in an election that year.

In March this year, Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of the Liberal Party announced a plan aimed at boosting the integration of immigrants and eliminating ghettos - a word that is the same in Danish - by 2030.

Measures include banning criminals from moving into the areas, giving double punishment for crimes committed in ghettos, and demolishing then rebuilding parts of the zones.

The plan has met with a mixed response in Mjolnerparken in central Copenhagen, one of the country's 25 ghettos - a term that originated in 16th-century Venice and was used to describe certain areas of the city to which Jews were restricted.

Some Mjolnerparken residents say the government drive could improve their communities by reducing crime and boosting job prospects, but others fear it will simply entrench divisions by creating a parallel society where different rules apply.

"It will help, yes, but I believe it will also harm," said 50-year-old El-Chahabi.

Denmark formally named areas ghettos in 2010 to target specific places which they deemed needed increased attention to integrate the residents.

"The official description makes the kids associate themselves with a life of crime and fast money," said Iranian-born Khosrow Bayet, 55, who came to Denmark more than 30 years ago and is the leader of Sjakket, an after-school club in Copenhagen for children from the ghetto areas.

In Mjolnerparken, which gets its name from Norse god Thor's famed hammer Mjolnir, more than four out of five inhabitants have a non-Western background and almost half have no job.

"I went to a doctor when I was younger with a backache and the doctor asked me if my husband beat me, and I was like 'no!'" said Umm-Meyounah, 37, a mother-of-two who was born to Danish parents and married an immigrant from the Middle East.

"This is what you're dealing with all the time. You're spending all your time explaining that you're not getting beaten up at home or that you're not a terrorist." (Reporting by Emil Gjerding Nielson; Editing by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen and Pravin Char)

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