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Swedish student prevents deportation of Afghan asylum seeker by refusing to sit down on flight

Live stream of Elin Ersson's dramatic protest shows how she stands her ground against flight crew and fellow passengers, before her efforts are finally applauded in emotional scenes 

Adam Withnall
Wednesday 25 July 2018 06:47 BST
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Swedish student single-handedly prevents deportation of Afghan asylum seeker by refusing to sit down on flight

A student activist in Sweden single-handedly prevented the deportation of an asylum seeker to Afghanistan, by refusing to sit down on the plane that was due to take him out of the country.

Elin Ersson started live-streaming her dramatic protest after flight attendants demanded she sit down for departure and tried to take away her phone.

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

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 in emotional scenes 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.

Throughout the video, Swedish airport authorities refuse to use force to remove the protester, and they later confirmed that an asylum seeker - identified as a 52-year-old man by Deutsche Welle - was removed from the plane.

Some local media reported that the man had since “vanished”, though DW reported that he remained in custody and it was expected another attempt would be made to deport him.

Ms Ersson has received widespread praise for her actions, and her video has been viewed more than two million times since the live stream took place on Monday.

She has insisted, both during the protest itself and in Facebook posts yesterday, that “no laws were broken” by her actions, adding: “This is a right in Sweden.”

According to DW, though, the Swedish authorities think differently. Police said passengers who refuse to obey a pilot's orders while on board a plane can face fines or up to six months in jail.

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.

The country has recorded 400,000 asylum applications since 2012, the equivalent of one for every 25 members of the population, which The Local Sweden called a record in Europe.

Sweden briefly suspended deportations to Afghanistan in January after two particularly devastating attacks by the Taliban in Kabul. And in 2017, the country’s courts were forced to step in when the authorities tried to deport a 106-year-old Afghan grandmother. Nonetheless, Sweden’s Migration Board stands by its view that Afghanistan is a safe country of origin for failed asylum seekers.

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