Swedish Activist Who Went Viral Stopped the Wrong Deportation
STOCKHOLM—A young Swedish activist made international news in July after she broadcast herself live on Facebook stopping a plane that was carrying an Afghan man being deported. But there’s more to the story than just a tearful and dramatic act of civil disobedience.
Elin Ersson, 21, stopped a plane bound for Turkey at Gothenburg’s Landvetter airport on July 23, and her Facebook live broadcast of the whole event had millions of views.
It soon emerged, however, that Ersson had stopped the wrong deportation. She believed she was stopping the deportation of 26-year-old Ismail Khawari, but he was on a different flight.
Khawari, who is now in Kabul, told Deutsche Welle that his mother and two sisters live in Sweden, but his asylum requests had been rejected three times and that he also had tried going to Germany to apply there.
The man on the flight that Ersson stopped was a 52-year-old Afghan convicted of battery, who had served two years in prison and was being deported by immigration authorities, not as a part of his sentence. He has since been deported.
Ersson told newspapers that she found out that the man on the plane was not the one she originally intended to help, but that she decided to go ahead anyway. She would do it again, she told the TT news agency.
“We don’t have capital punishment in Sweden, but deportation to a country at war could mean death,” she said.
Ersson is part of a loose-knit network of organizations and groups that are trying to prevent deportations to Afghanistan, arguing that the country is “at war.” But the Swedish Migration Agency says that deportations can be made safely to government-controlled areas of Afghanistan.
“You must understand that a rather high level of risk is required for asylum status,” Mikael Ribbenvik, director general of the Swedish Migration Agency, told Swedish Television (SVT). “If we’re talking about everyone [from there] getting to stay here, which is often what’s argued, then we’re talking a completely different level. We’re talking Syria level, and Afghanistan is not at a Syria level.”
Veteran investigative reporters with SVT managed to find only a single case of a deportee from Sweden being killed in an incident after returning to Afghanistan, and that was in 2014.
By contrast, the network of Swedish asylum activists that Ersson belongs to has repeatedly claimed that deportation is a death sentence. Fatemeh Khavari, spokesperson for Ung i Sverige, an organization for young Afghan immigrants, said that deportation to Afghanistan means “certain death.” When pressed for statistics by SVT, Khavari said she also referred to “psychological death.”
Ersson has been praised, criticized, and ridiculed in Swedish media and social media since her actions. Some have praised her courage, comparing her to legendary civil rights activists, while others argue that her action was ill-informed and ultimately pointless, or even counter-productive.
The incident has also re-kindled an ongoing heated debate about the fate of some 10,000 young Afghans seeking asylum as “unaccompanied minors” in Sweden, many of whom are now facing deportation in the wake of tougher immigration policies.
The Expressen newspaper analyzed data about this group from the Swedish Migration Agency, with the help of professor Dan Hedlin of Stockholm University. According to the study, these Afghan immigrants were 99.4 percent males and 78 percent had their age adjusted after assessment, revoking their status as minors. Not a single person in the statistical selection had a valid ID.
A new law passed in June granted them a kind of amnesty by making it possible to apply for high school education in order to stay. But this law was sharply criticized beforehand by the government’s own Council on Legislation, as well as many politicians—including some who actually voted for it in parliament. It has since been rejected by courts.
Ersson may now face charges for violating air traffic regulations. The Swedish Prosecution Authority has initiated a preliminary investigation, according to a press release.