Police accused of harassing foreign homeless people

The police deny claims by homeless advocacy group that they are harassing foreign homeless in Copenhagen

In just two months, homeless advocacy group Projekt Udenfor has registered 15 cases in which foreign homeless people have been harassed by the Copenhagen Police.

And now the harassment case has catalysed a political reaction after Lars Aslan Rasmussen (Socialdemokraterne) decided to bring the issue to the council ombudsman Borgerrådgiveren.

“Regardless of their ethnic background, the homeless are entitled to basic human rights. It’s very worrying, if it’s true, and I believe that it is,” Rasmussen told metroXpress newspaper. “It’s degrading when they have their sleeping bags and shoes taken from them and it’s not fair to a group of people already vulnerable.”

Rasmussen went on to maintain that he will try to shed some light on the episode through a dialogue with the police and figure out if it was the result of a bad day or if this sort of thing occurs regularly.

Projekt Udenfor told metroXpress that the harassment incidents involved police waking foreign homeless people several times during the course of a night and the confiscation of their personal property, including sleeping bags and shoes.

Projekt Udenfor director Ninna Høgh fears that the police are singling out foreign homeless people.

“I’m nervous that the police have another moral and legal way to treat the foreign homeless people compared with how they treat Danes, and that they criminalise this group just because they are a foreign element,” Høgh told metroXpress.

But the claims were rebuffed by the Copenhagen Police, which denies that there is a strategy in place that targets foreign homeless people.  

“There is no calculated strategy from the police,” said Steen Hansen, a Copenhagen Police spokesperson, who said that Projekt Udenfor should have reported the alleged incidents to the police. “Then we could have seen if the episode was connected with what we call Eastern criminals, and if there was some sort of mix-up.”

Factfile | Foreign homeless (figures from homeless advocate group Projekt Udenfor)

  • About 500 of the foreign homeless people are so-called worker immigrants that may have been relatively functional when they arrived, but end up on the streets within the first 8-12 months, usually battling alcohol problems.
  • About 100 have complex social problems such as psychological illnesses.
  • Projekt Udenfor estimates that the foreign homeless do not generally have the resources to be involved with organised crime.
  • Many are forced to stay in Denmark because they lack the means and finances to leave the country.
  • The foreign homeless are not covered by the service law and therefore do not have access to a variety of offers involving food, health aid and shelters.
  • The foreign homeless predominantly hail from Africa and eastern Europe.