Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 26 May 2019

Swedish ‘hero’ Elin Ersson stops Afghan man’s deportation ‘to hell’ in plane protest

The student battled with plane staff and passengers to prevent the man’s removal

'Not sitting down': student Elin Ersson halted the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker by refusing to sit down on flight. YouTube
'Not sitting down': student Elin Ersson halted the deportation of an Afghan asylum seeker by refusing to sit down on flight. YouTube

A Swedish activist has been hailed a hero after preventing the deportation of an elderly Afghan asylum seeker single-handedly by refusing to sit down on the plane until he was removed.

Elin Ersson, a student at Gothenburg University, bought a plane ticket after discovering that the man would be sent home from her country.

She then live-streamed her protest, speaking English, standing on her own in the aisle of a plane holding dozens of passengers. Plane staff tried to persuade her to sit down, while others tried to take her phone from her. But the Swedish woman remained steadfast.

“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 says in the video.

“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,” she adds. “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.”

Ms Ersson becomes overwhelmed by the situation and cries on camera before a group of passengers applaud her actions.

That was only after an English passenger challenged her in an angry tone and tried to take her phone away, to which she replied: “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.”

Plane staff declined to remove the student activist by force and, in an emotional scene, they proceeded to remove the Afghan man from the flight to loud applause. Ms Ersson left the plane with him.

Swedavia, the company in charge of operating Gothenburg airport, said the plane had been delayed by two hours. It remains unclear what will happen to the Afghan asylum seeker after his departure was prevented. He is in Swedish custody and will be returned to Afghanistan regardless of her protests, according to German media reports.


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For observers, however, Ms Ersson’s actions are one small act of kindness that could lead to change. “I hope this goes viral and it plays a part in getting more people to stand up,” wrote one Twitter user.

Another wrote that her actions were important because she prevented his deportation in “the face of something which often prevents people from standing up for what they believe is right: inconvenience”.

Sweden continues to deem Afghanistan a safe country for denied asylum seekers, despite a yearslong insurgency by the Taliban and now ISIS. The country has made it significantly tougher for migrants to enter the country after the mass exodus of Syrians from the country’s bloody civil war in 2015.

Airports have been the scene of protests against tougher immigration laws across the West, from New York to Munich, in a bid to stop the deportation of asylum seekers who have fled war and persecution.

Updated: July 25, 2018 05:37 PM