Just last week, President Trump announced that America will send more troops into Afghanistan. Conflict in the country is far from over, with more causalities in the war now than ever before.
Thousands have fled the fighting. In Sweden alone, over 23 000 Afghans are seeking refuge, many of them minors. But as the country hardens its refugee policy, many asylum seekers face deportation.
Now the refugees are beginning to organise. Led by a formidable 17 year old high school student, hundreds of young Afghan asylum seekers are staging a peaceful sit-in protest, as they dig in their heels, unwilling to be sent back to a country still deep in conflict.
From Stockholm, Sweden, Ric Wasserman has this story.
On the 7th of August, nearly 600 young Afghan asylum seekers gathered in front of parliament in the Swedish capital, Stockholm.
Afraid of being sent back to Afghanistan, they began a peaceful sit down strike, pleading to stay in safety.
Within hours, the peaceful protest was attacked by the National Front, a group of neo-nazis. They hurled racial slurs, and then smoke bombs.
Under police escort, the protesters were moved to the steps of Medborgarhuset, a communal meeting hall in the south of the city.
There, 17 year old Fatemeh Kharvari, the protest organiser, addressed a crowdof Afghan asylum seekers and Swedes showing their solidarity.
I asked Fatemeh what they hope to accomplish with the sitdown strike.
”We’ll continue our sitdown strike until we get a visit from Mikael Ribbenvik the General Director of the Migration Authority. He must promise to stop deportations to Afghanistan,” she stated.
Two weeks later, the strikers were still staging their sit-in. Ribbenvik hasn’t showed his face. He’s only replied by email, telling them that each person’s claim to stay will be judged individually.
Fatemeh Kharvari has been granted asylum in Sweden. But she’s surrounded by other young Afghans who have travelled half the globe to find safety, and still haven’t found it. They could be sent back to conflict-riddled Afghanistan at any moment.
A month ago, Fatemeh started the group ’Young in Sweden’ to campaign for their right to seek asylum. It quickly caught on.
”We were 7 or 8 from the beginning, now we’re nearly 1000,” she explained. ”We can’t allow them to send us to our deaths.”
Over 23 000 young Afghans are in Sweden without their families, and are seeking asylum here. Most arrived in mid-2015. Since then, Sweden has toughened it’s stance on refugees. Now, two years on, 30% have had their applications for asylum rejected.
The majority of these Afghan asylum seekers are Hazara: Shia Muslims in Sunni dominated Afghanistan, they are targeted by the Taliban.
And as the Taliban wins back more ground in Afghanistan, they are more vulnerable than ever.
”There are risks that they could be subject to Taliban forces or become sexually exploitation,” said Swedish Migration Authority ’s Deputy Director of Legal Affairs Carl Bexelius.
He says they may meet the requirements to become refugees under Swedish law.
But their desperate wait here is taking a toll. Several Afghan youth have committed suicide.
Back at the sit-in, asylum seekers form a line for tea and sandwiches.
Iqbal is from the volatile Kunduz province in Northern Afghanistan. He’s one of the sitdown strikers and he wants to tell me his story.
He says his agony began when he was thirteen, kidnapped by a militant group. His childhood was snatched away that day. For 2 years, his captors worked him for 12 hours a day.
He tried to escape, but was caught.
”They beat me with a Kalashnikov in my face,” he remembers.
They broke his jaw.
Iqbal eventually managed to escape, but was soon captured by another group. He was sold and forced into sexual slavery, serving a group of rich businessmen in Kabul. Once again he escaped.
After a three month journey he arrived in Sweden. That was more than 2 years ago. He still doesn’t know if he will be allowed to stay, or if he will be sent back to where he fled.
He recently turned 18, so his chances to stay are greatly reduced.
I asked him if he’s allowed to stay, what would he want to be?
”If I’m allowed to stay in Sweden I want to become a good policeman. I want to catch all the bad people doing wrong things,” he answered.
Iqbal and thousands of other Afghan asylum seekers tensely waiting to hear if they will be allowed to stay, or be forced to leave.
In the meantime, their strike continues in Stockholm, and it has spread to two other Swedish cities, Gothenberg and Malmo.