Alcohol is banned in an east Greenland town after a surge of violence

Social workers in Tasiilaq say the measure is only a short-term solution, but call it necessary to put the brakes on alcohol-fueled incidents.

By Kevin McGwin - September 7, 2021
Snow covered mountains rise above the harbour and town of Tasiilaq, Greenland, June 15, 2018. (Lucas Jackson / Reuters File Photo)

Greenland’s Self-Rule authority has issued a two-week ban on all sales of alcohol in the town of Tasiilaq in response to a series of violent episodes.

Over a period of three days at the start of last week, police in the town of just under 2,000 residents on Greenland’s eastern coast recorded two suicides, four attempted suicides, one rape and 15 incidents of domestic violence. The police report having a generally busy weekend nationwide.

The ban, in effect until September 17, had led to an immediate decline in alcohol-related incidents and on Friday night there were no reports of domestic violence, but the police reported they continued to respond to more incidents of alcohol-related disorderly conduct than normal, while health officials said they had run out of capacity to treat people for alcohol poisoning.

Social workers from the Sermersooq regional authority, which has jurisdiction over eastern Greenland, and volunteers have assisted the police, while children who felt unsafe staying at home were being permitted to stay at a community center, which was also providing meals.

[2 suicides in one week send Greenland town in search for answers]

Alcohol-related crimes, particularly on payday, are a recurring problem in many Greenland communities, and temporary bans are implemented during periods when social workers and police feel a situation is out of control.

On Greenland’s east coast, sales of drinks with more than 15 percent alcohol by volume have been prohibited since 2011 in order to limit alcohol-related crimes. Most recently, the regional authority passed a measure in May that required Tasiilaq’s two stores to temporarily stop alcohol sales in the event of reports of drunken disorderliness. The measure appeared to have helped reduce alcohol-related crimes. 

Social workers in Tasiilaq admitted that banning the sale of alcohol was as a stop-gap solution that failed to address the causes of alcohol abuse, but they felt the current ban had given the town the chance to collect itself after several “hard days,” according to Hjørdis Viberg, an employee with the Sermersooq regional authority responsible for eastern Greenland.

“The point of the alcohol ban is to give us a chance do to some work. But it is just as much to give the town the chance to simmer down and to give the kids a little peace and quiet until we can get past this,” Viberg told KNR, a broadcaster.