My friend was whisked out of Norway by private jet, but this was no luxury flight

By Mona Elfareh

Taibeh Abbasi was born in Iran to Afghan parents and fled to Norway with her mother and brothers in 2012. On 15 June 2019, the Norwegian police entered her house, handcuffed her, and attempted to send her and her family to Afghanistan – a country she’d never even visited. Taibeh’s friends quickly came together and organized a demonstration in a bid to halt the deportation. Here, Taibeh’s friend, Mona Elfareh, reveals what happened next…

Last month, on Saturday 15 June, my friends and I were planning on going swimming and having a barbecue. Instead, I woke up to the ping of messages and missed calls on my phone and quickly realised something had happened to my friend Taibeh and her family.

Taibeh Abbasi was born in Iran to Afghan parents. In 2012, when she was 13, they arrived in Norway and were granted refugee status, but it was revoked in 2013, after Kabul, Afghanistan, was considered ‘safe’ for returns by the Norwegian authorities. Taibeh had never even visited Afghanistan, but her and her family’s status and residence permits were revoked in October 2014. They appealed the decision, but after a long judicial battle, they lost, leaving them without regular status in Norway.

Taibeh and her brothers Taibeh and her brothers
Taibeh and her brothers. Credit: Amnesty International.

During my final year of high school, my brother told me about Taibeh’s story. He asked for my help as he wanted to do something about it. As student councillor, I did too, and we soon became firm friends with Taibeh, and have remained so ever since.

That’s why I was so upset last month when a friend told me I needed to go to the police station immediately. Just a few hours earlier, the police had broken into the Abbasis’ house and taken them away. I couldn’t wrap my head around it.

As I made my way to the police station, the news sunk in. If I called her, Taibeh wouldn’t answer. If I went to her house, she wouldn’t be in. Tears started running down my face and when I reached the police station, there were so many people there, including friends, neighbours, classmates, teachers and strangers.

Everyone was offering hugs and support, wondering where the Abbasi family had been taken. We soon learnt that when the police entered their house that morning the officers packed their belongings, handcuffed them and took the Abbasi family to Røros airport, in another town.  This airport was not even in use, they were taken there so they could deport the family quickly and quietly on a private jet, costing tens of thousands of euros. From there, they were due to fly to Oslo, then to Istanbul and, finally, Kabul, Afghanistan.

Her brother later told me that they were afraid, shocked and traumatised. Taibeh told me time and time again how her worst nightmare was to be taken by the Norwegian police and sent to Afghanistan.  The police deprived them of their phones and they were only allowed to make intermittent phone calls.   

I had been naïve to think they would be able to stay in Norway – their home – and allowed to live a safe and peaceful life.

Mona and Taibeh. Credit: Amnesty International.

By Monday, my sadness had been replaced with anger. I knew I had to do something.  A Facebook group had been set up in case anything ever happened to the family. When I logged in, the page was flooded with messages from people wanting to get involved. It was time to stage another demonstration and let the Norwegian authorities know exactly how we felt.

The aim was to hold the demonstration on Wednesday – we knew there’d be interest as Taibeh’s case had been getting traction in the media and Amnesty International was working as fast as it could to stop the Abbasi family from being deported.

We pulled everything together quickly – it was the third demonstration we’d organised, and probably the easiest. The case had become so huge by this point, everyone wanted to help, proving that together we stand stronger. As we were planning our demonstration on Monday, the Abbasi family was due to travel from Istanbul to Afghanistan.

We were waiting for an update when we learnt Atefa, Taibeh’s mother, had been unconscious during the whole trip and was too ill to travel. Instead of doing the right thing and letting the family travel home to Norway together, the Norwegian authorities did the cruellest thing possible – they decided to send Taibeh and her two brothers, the youngest of whom was 16, to Kabul, without their mother. We were shocked.

Everything was changing so quickly, but Tuesday brought with it the happiest news we could have hoped for. We learnt that Taibeh and her brothers had not been sent to Afghanistan the night before as planned, after the Afghan authorities stated it was dangerous to forcibly send children without any parents to another country. 

As their mother remained unable to travel, they were all allowed to come back to Norway for the time being, but Taibeh and her family remain in legal limbo. They still don’t have regular status and unless they’re granted leave to stay in Norway, they could face deportation after their mother recovers.

Mona at the demonstration organized for Taibeh and her family. Credit: Tom Arne Brandvold.

Our demonstration went ahead on Wednesday – we were still determined to make our voices heard. It was beautiful to see so many people take part and show their support.

What happened to Taibeh’s family was unfair and unspeakably cruel. We had worked so hard to make our voices heard and we were determined to do it again. There were more banners, more posters and we were louder than ever before.

Even though Taibeh is back at home, the way the Norwegian government acted is an injustice we still have to fight. I feel angry and frustrated by this whole situation. It’s sad and embarrassing that Norway, a country that claims to believe in human rights and the rights of children, would consider sending a child back to a country they’ve never even visited, without their parents.

 As young people, we won’t give up. We want a better future for our friends and our family and we won’t stop until the authorities start listening to us.

Mona Elfareh, 20, is a former student councillor. She is currently on a gap year and will start studying psychology at university in August.

This story was orginally published by the Metro