1,000+ Norway high schoolers protest to stop the government deporting their Afghan classmate
Some say the emotional event signals a youth revolt against Norway’s treatment of asylum-seekers, but so far most politicians aren’t listening – one even suggested the demo was just an excuse to skip school.
"You go back to Afghanistan and see how ‘safe’ it is," said the colourful, home-made placard directed at the Norwegian government, which is threatening to deport 18-year-old Taibeh Abbasi and her family to Afghanistan.
It was one of many held high at the protest in Trondheim, Norway’s third largest city, on 3 October 2017. Organised by a group of high school students, it saw over 1,000 people pour into the main city square to hear speeches and sing songs in their lunch break.
Only a day later, Amnesty International published new research showing how European governments have forced almost 10,000 Afghan asylum-seekers to go back, risking torture – even death, and called for a complete stop to all deportations because the country is too dangerous right now.
Taibeh Abbasi (pictured below) is Afghan but was born in Iran. She has never been to Afghanistan, and fled to Norway with her two brothers and their mother in 2012. She said the demonstration made a big impression. "I felt like I’m part of Norwegian society too and not just a refugee. It’s difficult to hold back the tears. I'm not alone and I'm not giving up."
"This case has touched many people," said Mona Elfareh, Student Council leader at Taibeh’s high school, Thora Storm. "We’ve worked night and day to make this happen. Young people want to be heard."
'Not the Norway I know and love'
One of those young people was Emma Marshall, 18, who leads Trondheim’s Amnesty youth group. "It was important to me to show support for Taibeh and her family," she said. «There was a great atmosphere and I think everyone was really surprised to see how many people came.
"Not only is Norway treating Taibeh’s family in a completely inhumane way by allowing them to integrate and create a whole new life for themselves before ripping it all away," Emma continued. "Norway is also breaking the law. Afghanistan is absolutely not a safe country to send people back to. This is not the Norway I know and love."
The girl who dreamed of going to school
Parnian Amirahmadi, 17, who leads the Amnesty group at Trondheim Cathedral school, agrees. Like Taibeh, she was born in Iran and came to Norway in 2010 after it became too dangerous for her father, a writer, to stay. "I have a lot of empathy for them," Parnian said.
New Norwegian school rules mean high schoolers now need to show a valid political reason for being absent. Parnian therefore organised a letter from Amnesty supporting the student’s right to protest. "I think it gave many people the opportunity to participate," she says.
"Taibeh and her brothers walked in front of the procession," Parnian said, "and everyone cheered and shouted ‘Let Abbasi stay!'." Then we all sang ‘We Are the World’ in solidarity with the family."
The protest ended with a speech from Taibeh in Norwegian: "I’m proud to be standing here today," she said. "I am the girl who always wanted to go to school." She recalled her life in Iran, where she and her brothers were barred from studying. "In Kabul there is no future. As a girl I’ll be particularly exposed. My dreams of an education and a career will be crushed." Taibeh's goal is to become a doctor.
A youth revolt
One blogger and youth activist, Leon Bafondoko, has called on Norway’s Migration and Integration Minister, Sylvi Listhaug, to respond to the protesters, saying the demo signals a youth revolt and sends a clear signal that they won’t tolerate this kind of injustice.
Mona (pictured above, left) agrees: "We demand answers from the politicians and will not stop before something is done. If they ignore our voices, then what is the point of democracy and freedom of speech?"
She thinks the protest offered many young people a rare chance to stand up against Norway’s restrictive asylum policies. One of the world’s richest countries, it currently has capacity to handle asylum cases but is instead choosing to close many of its asylum centres.
Protest was ‘an excuse to skip school’
Few politicians – and nobody in government - appear to have taken much notice of the high schoolers so far. In fact, one representative of the ruling Progress Party, Lill Harriet Sandaune, instead questioned the young people’s commitment, asking why they don't hold demos in their spare time instead.
But maybe they should sit up and listen. Because Taibeh, Mona and their friends - pictured above with a sign saying "Send Sylvi to Kabul" - are not giving up. Crowdfunding for the family’s legal costs has already raised over £7,000. And plans are underway to continue challenge the ruling that could force the Abbasi family to abandon a life to face danger in a country where they no longer have a home.
Because as far as these young people are concerned, #AbbasiStays.