A lit flare was thrown at the group of youngsters sitting at Stockholm’s Mynttorget square on Tuesday night, injuring three of them. Police have increased security at the location as a result, and the Stockholm Police hate crime unit is now investigating the incident.
"At about eight in the evening around 10-13 men came shouting 'Deport! Deport!', then they threw a banger at us and three people were injured. One is still at the hospital, the other two are OK," Aref, one of the protesters, explained to The Local on Wednesday morning.
He praised the police response but admitted it was difficult to sleep at the square on Tuesday night:
"We're really happy with the police. Within ten minutes five police cars were here and tried to stop them, it was pretty good. They were quick and there are police here now since yesterday, so it feels safer. But I couldn't sleep last night to be honest – when the police leave it feels less safe."
Aref had trouble sleeping after the attack on the protest. Photo: Lee Roden
Even after the attack, and despite the discomfort of sleeping on the streets, Aref said the group are determined to continue protesting and raise awareness about the situation in Afghanistan people being deported there face.
"We have a lot of friends who were deported and have contact with them. They're not doing well at all. They have no security in Afghanistan, there's nothing for them there. We're here to say to Swedish politicians they should stop deportations to an unsafe country. There is violence, bombs, everything you can think of – it's not safe, yet Sweden sends people there."
In 2015 at the peak of the refugee crisis 23,480 lone minors from Afghanistan sought asylum in Sweden. In 2016 the number dropped to 665, with the drop thought to be due to the introduction of border control measures in some EU countries.
Ahmed, another demonstrator, admitted that the protest has been difficult, but they feel it is necessary.
"We're people. We're not animals. In Sweden animals have rights – why don’t we have rights too then? They think we’re worse than animals. That’s why we’ve been sitting here for three days, sleeping in cold weather at night, with no food, no toilets. But we have no chance, this is our last hope – that’s why we’re protesting,” he explained.
"They (the attackers from Tuesday) are not bad people I think, nor stupid. They're human beings too. But why throw things at us? Why not come and speak to us, read what we have here, find out about our problems? Maybe they would think we're right."
"There are good people coming here too. There were people who came and gave us food, I got free food this morning," his friend Ali added.
Adults have also showed up to sit with the teenagers and during The Local's visit to the protest, two employees from a local café brought a tray full of sandwiches over to the demonstrators.
Ahmed (left) and Ali. Photo: Lee Roden
"I don't know why for the three days that we've been protesting here no one from Migrationsverket has come. There has been no contact unfortunately. You'd have to ask them why," Ahmed complained. The protesters want the agency's general director Mikael Ribbenvik to come and hear them out at Mynttorget.
In December Migrationsverket noted that the security situation had deteriorated in Afghanistan, but insisted that that some provinces were safer than others, and as a result it continues to make individual deportation decisions on each asylum application from the country.
When The Local contacted Migrationsverket, their press office said that they are closely following the security situation in Afghanistan, but at present its assessment is the same as before, "which means Mikael Ribbenvik does not plan on visiting the protest".
Hadi, who has helped with organizing the protest, thinks the Swedish authorities don't understand just how difficult life is back in Afghanistan.
"When you leave your house in the morning, you can't be sure if you'll come home at night. That's what it’s like in Afghanistan. You know that every day when you go out in town, go to your job, or go to school. That’s if you can go to school in the first place. It's not that the government doesn’t want us to go to school, it’s that they can’t do anything to take care of you, let alone run the country," he said.
Hadi has a residence permit in Sweden, but wants to show support for those who do not. Photo: Lee Roden
“When it comes to the protest we completely understand why questions are asked about the security situation in Afghanistan. In part because many people are affected, in part because there is a big difference between the security situation in Afghanistan and what we see in our immediate vicinity,” Migrationsverket commented in a written statement.
“Migrationsverket constantly follows the security situation in Afghanistan, and our assessment is that the situation in the country is serious and has deteriorated in the last year. But there are still big differences between different parts of the country, and our assessment is that the conflict has not reached a level where it impacts all of the country – in other words, the level required for everyone who comes from there to have the right to stay,” the statement continued.
Hadi disagrees with the Swedish authority’s assessment of his homeland however:
“Afghanistan isn’t safe. They’ve estimated that there are three or four places that are quite safe and you can send people back there, but if you watch the news there are a lot of terrifying, really horrible things happening there. People are killed every day, the Afghan government isn’t capable of taking care of people, there’s no help.”
“We have the right to live without people trying to kill us for no reason at all. If it was safe in Afghanistan then we absolutely wouldn’t have left our homes, our country. We left to protect ourselves, we’ve been forced to leave. It’s a matter of life or death,” the emotional protester added.
For now however, Migrationsverket will continue to judge cases on an individual basis:
“According to the laws Migrationsverket and the courts follow, asylum seekers have an individual need for protection – every case must be treated individually. Most negative decisions are also appealed to the courts who then make their own individual assessment of that need for protection.”
That’s little comfort for Hadi and his friends however, who will continue to protest in the hope of things changing.
“I have a residence permit – there are a lot of people protesting here who do. I’m happy with my own situation, but I can’t just think of myself. We’ve come to show others they’re not alone. To show Sweden we’re people.”
“If I was speaking my mother tongue I could properly express how much pain I have inside. I just care about people – it doesn’t matter if you’re Swedish, Russian, French, Afghan – everyone in the world has the right to live in safety. We just want the right to live somewhere safe,” he concluded.