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Swedish student who stopped Afghan asylum seeker's deportation by refusing to sit down on plane could face prison

Elin Ersson live-streams protest despite orders from flight attendants to stop and sit down

Tom Embury-Dennis
Wednesday 25 July 2018 21:12 BST
Swedish student single-handedly prevents deportation of Afghan asylum seeker by refusing to sit down on flight

A Swedish student who stopped the deportation of an asylum seeker to Afghanistan by refusing to sit down on a plane could face prison.

Elin Ersson live-streamed her protest after flight attendants and some passengers demanded she sit down for departure and tried to snatch away her phone.

Her actions received widespread praise from around the world, and her video has been viewed more than two million times since the incident took place on Monday.

Ms Ersson bought a ticket for the flight from Gothenburg to Istanbul after she and other activists found out that an Afghan national was going to be deported on the plane.

The activist has insisted, both during the protest itself and in Facebook posts, that “no laws were broken”, but Swedish authorities may see it differently.

According to the country’s aviation act, any passenger who “does not obey what the pilot-in-command decides about order on board” could face a fine or a maximum of six months in prison.

It is not clear what command, if any, the pilot gave to Ms Ersson, though she was told by a flight attendant the pilot had said a decision on the asylum seeker would be made in Istanbul rather than Gothenburg.

202,157 flights tracked on one of aviation's busiest days of the year

Swedish police were unavailable for comment when contacted by The Independent.

The video documents what is initially a lone struggle against flight crew and fellow passengers who berate the student and accuse her of causing delays.

Gradually some passengers come forward to say they support what she is doing, however, and at the end of the live-stream the plane erupts in applause as the Afghan man, three security personnel and finally Ms Ersson herself are disembarked.

The video begins with Ms Ersson walking down to the centre of the plane and demanding the pilot exercise his right to refuse to take off while a deportee is on board.

Shouts of “sit down, we want to go” can be heard and a person believed to be a flight attendant makes a first attempt to snatch away her phone.

During the 15 minutes in which she holds her ground, Ms Ersson, who identifies herself on Facebook as a student at Gothenburg University, says the asylum seeker “will most likely be killed if he stays on this plane”.

At one point in the video, a man who appears to be English approaches Ms Ersson, demands she sits down and takes away her phone. She asks him: “What is more important, a life or your time?”, to which he responds by accusing her of “upsetting people” and “frightening children”, adding: “I don’t care what you think.” A flight attendant later hands the phone back to Ms Ersson.

The incident has highlighted Sweden’s strict policy on asylum seekers as the country heads for an election in September in which the far-right, on an anti-immigration platform, are expected to perform well.

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