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This College Student Stopped a Deportation in Sweden by Holding Up a Flight

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Elin Ersson sparked a national reckoning with what many people believe are arbitrary deportations of asylum seekers in Sweden. All around the world, countries have been tightening their asylum laws, while the United Nations’ Global Goals calls for countries to foster humane law enforcement. You can take action on this issue here.

Elin Ersson boarded a plane in Gothenburg, Sweden, earlier this week and refused to sit down, preventing the plane from taking off, according to The New York Times.

Her solitary protest earned the ire of her fellow passengers, who clamored for her to sit down, but she was there on a moral mission.

Ersson, who is a student activist, wanted to halt the deportation of an Afghan man by preventing the plane he was on from taking off. The person she was initially intending to help wasn’t on the flight, but another Afghan asylum seeker was on the plane ready to be deported. Because her objective was larger than one person, the focus of her protest shifted.

Take Action: Call on Leaders to Adopt Global Compacts for Refugees and Migrants, Everywhere

“I’m not going to sit down until this person is off the plane,” she says in a live-streamed video of the situation, “because he is most likely to get killed if he is on this plane when it goes up.”

In the video, Ersson spoke about the dangerous conditions she believed the man would return to in Kabul, mentioning the ongoing war in Afghanistan and the various attacks that have happened in Kabul over the past year.

During the video, Ersson can be seen crying, arguing with fellow passengers, and ultimately rejoicing when the Afghan deportee is removed from the flight that was going to Istanbul, according to the Times.

“I am doing what I can to save a person’s life,” she tells a fellow passenger at one point. “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.”

Read More: The US Has Missed Its First Deadline to Reunite Separated Families

The video has since racked up more than 2.7 million views, and Ersson is being hailed as a human rights champion for her effort.

There are more than 2.5 million Afghan refugees around the world, the majority of whom fled their home country following the outbreak of the US-led invasion in 2001.

The ongoing national security crisis throughout the country, including in Kabul, means that the country is generating a steady stream of refugees every month.

While Sweden is relatively difficult to reach for migrants and asylum seekers, nearly 42,000 Afghans applied for asylum in Sweden in 2015, according to the Swedish Migration Agency, and another 4,700 applied over the next two years.

Read More: Germany Is Paying Asylum Seekers Thousands of Dollars to Go Back Home

Critics of Ersson claim that she interfered with the law and was a nuisance for fellow passengers, according to BuzzFeed. Swedish authorities who spoke with the Times said she did not commit a crime, but by delaying the flight for more than two hours, she could be sued by Turkish Airlines.

Either way, her protest has shown that individuals can obstruct deportation systems that they believe are unjust.

The Afghan refugee who was spared deportation will still likely be removed from the country, according to CNN, but Ersson has provoked a reckoning with what many citizens are calling overzealous immigration enforcement.