On Monday, student activist Elin Errson stopped the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker by refusing to sit down on the plane that would deport him. Errson live streamed her protest on Facebook which brought global attention to Sweden’s strict asylum policy.
Errson, a student at Gothenburg University, bought a plane ticket from Gothenburg to Turkey after her and fellow asylum activists found out a 52-year-old man would be deported back to Afghanistan on the flight. After boarding the plane, Errson refused to sit down delaying take off until the man was removed from the plane.
In the video Errson said, “I don’t want a man’s life to be taken away just because you don’t want to miss your flight. I am not going to sit down until the person is off the plane.” She goes on to say the man “will most likely be killed if he stays on this plane.”
At first, Errson is alone in her protest as flight attendants and passengers beg her to sit down. However, as the protest continues some passengers join her in standing while others continue to escalate their complaints against her. One flight attendant asks her to stop filming the protest and Errson responds, “I am doing what I can to save a person’s life. As long as a person is standing up the pilot cannot take off. All I want to do is stop the deportation and then I will comply with the rules here. This is all perfectly legal and I have not committed a crime.”
At one point, a man confronts Errson and she responds by asking him, “What is more important, a life, or your time? … I want him to get off the plane because he is not safe in Afghanistan. I am trying to change my country’s rules; I don’t like them. It is not right to send people to hell.” The man goes on to say, “I don’t care what you think” and accuses her of “upsetting people” and “frightening children” before taking her phone. A flight attendant returns the phone to Errson who continues filming her protest.
Airport authorities refused to forcefully remove Errson from the plane and eventually complied with her demands. The passengers on the plane applauded as the Afghan asylum seeker was escorted off of the plane. The company that runs the airport Swedavia confirmed the man was removed from the plane followed by Errson.
Errson’s Facebook video has been viewed over two million times and she has received global praise for her protest. Throughout the video, and in a later Facebook post, she claimed her protest was legal. However, the Swedish Aviation Act states that passengers who fail to obey a pilot while on board a plane could face fines or even up to six months in jail.
Errson’s protest brought international attention to Sweden’s harsh asylum policies. In 2015, the country was flooded with 163,000 asylum applications that have since been backlogged. The government is continuing to review these applications and in the process, plan to hand tens of thousands of deportation cases to the police. Following 2015, Sweden has made it more difficult for refugees to enter the country.
Errson’s accusations that the asylum seeker could be killed if he were deported were valid. In January, the Taliban increased its violence and Swedish deportations to Afghanistan had to be be put on hold for a brief amount of time. However, the Swedish migration board continues to claim that Afghanistan is a safe country for refugees who have been denied asylum.
The whereabouts of the asylum seeker Errson temporarily saved from deportation are unknown. A spokesperson for the Swedish Prison and Probation Service confirmed that the man will be deported once transportation was arranged. Errson said, “This is how deportations in Sweden work. The people involved know nothing and they are not allowed to reach out to their lawyers or family. My ultimate goal is to end deportations to Afghanistan.”She went on to say, “I hope that people start questioning how their country treats refugees. We need to start seeing the people whose lives our immigration [policies] are destroying.”