A Swedish student stopped an Afghan man’s deportation by refusing to sit down on a plane
Around the world — from Chicago to Munich to Roskilde, Denmark — airports have become centers of political protest over deportations. Activists have blocked airport entrances, demonstrated outside terminal fences and even stormed a runway in attempts to stop flights carrying deportees.
This week, one Swedish student tried a different approach. When Elin Ersson learned that an Afghan man was scheduled to be deported from Sweden on Monday, she bought a ticket for the same flight. Once she boarded the plane at Gothenburg airport, Ersson refused to take her seat, standing in the aisle until the 52-year-old deportee was released.
Her dramatic act of civil disobedience, which she streamed live on Facebook in English, forced the flight to be delayed by two hours, according to Swedavia, the company that operates the airport. Ultimately, her efforts succeeded — at least for the time being. The Afghan deportee was escorted off the plane before it took off.
“I’m not going to sit down until this person is off the plane,” Ersson said on the Facebook live video, which has now been viewed more than 2 million times. “The pilot has the right to say that he is not allowed to be on the plane.”
If the man were deported to conflict-ridden Afghanistan, she told the people around her, “he will most likely get killed.”
As she continued filming and refusing to take her seat, passengers and flight attendants are heard on the video growing increasingly frustrated.
“Sit down. We want to go,” one person is heard saying.
A flight attendant tells her several times to turn off her phone, because the airline’s safety demonstration was underway. “You have to take your seat and turn it off or you can leave the aircraft,” the flight attendant says. He explains to her that the flight is bound for Istanbul, where authorities would then escort the deportee onto a flight to Afghanistan. “In Istanbul they are going to decide what to do,” the flight attendant says.
“I don’t want a man’s life to be taken away just because you don’t want to miss your flight,” Ersson responds. She insists that what she is doing is perfectly legal. She films only her face, rarely showing the faces of those around her, out of privacy concerns.
The flight attendant says the crew is “not authorized to do something like this” because the deportee was being accompanied by Swedish authorities.
One passenger is heard angrily urging her to stop, telling her she’s “upsetting all the people down there.”
“I don’t care what you think. … What about all these children you are frightening?”
He grabs Ersson’s phone away from her before a flight attendant returns it.
“It’s your country’s rules,” another passenger tells her.
“I’m trying to change my country’s rules,” she responds. “It’s not right to send people to hell.”