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FATEMEH KHAVARI

In August 2017, Fatemeh Khavari (18) unknowingly launched what would become the movement Ung i Sverige (Youth in Sweden). It started as an act of solidarity with a friend whose application for asylum had been refused for the third time.

Edited by Robin Douglas Westling
Words Felicia Granath
Photography Laris Rasidovic

Stockholm, Sweden

To give him hope, Fatemeh initiated a sit-in strike in defense of the thousands of other young newcomers who are also at risk of being deported to Afghanistan. The sit-in grew on the square in Stockholm where they kept base. The strike went on for 55 days in spite of counter-demonstrations and neo-Nazi attacks. The fight continues and Fatemeh has been in numerous debates and demonstrations since. A publishing house invited her to write a book about her story, which was recently released: Jag Stannar Till Slutet (”I Will Fight Until the End”).

You recently visited the Swedish migration agency to discuss the increasingly difficult situation for newcomers.Did you feel heard by them?

FATEMEH — They are already very familiar with the situation in Afghanistan. What they don’t have is the will to do anything about it. We urge them to — to find empathy. I’m deeply concerned about them being aware of what’s going on and their lack of action thereafter. They know that being in Afghanistan becomes more dangerous daily, and that the circumstances for unaccompanied minors in Sweden also is intensified. Many of these youths weren’t assigned a school class for the current semester; now they have nothing to do to occupy their time. Both of the situations are getting worse and the Swedish migration agency aren’t showing the necessary leadership and courage to tackle it. You’ve mentioned before that Swedish citizens are currently discouraged to travel to Afghanistan under any circumstances, as it’s believed to be too risky. Meanwhile, the Swedish migration agency has decided that it’s OK to deport unaccompanied refugees there.

What do you make of this?

— That statement, that’s it’s too risky, comes from the ministry for foreign affairs; they’ve banned Swedes from travelling to Afghanistan. But when their assessment tells them that it’s not safe for Swedes — then it’s not safe for anyone, regardless of ethnicity. As an Afghan citizen who lives in Sweden with a residence permit, who has friends that are at risk of deportation; I wonder which group they think I belong to — those who are treated as inferior, or those that the ministry for foreign affairs bans from going to Afghanistan? I haven’t got my Swedish citizenship yet. I’m somewhere in between.

How do they decide who can stay and who’s deported?

— If you’re at risk of being deported, you need knowledge of the country they’re sending you to. You need a network there to live. Most of the unaccompanied refugees in question are born outside of Afghanistan, many in Iran. They don’t know anyone in Afghanistan. I brought this up yesterday during my meeting with the migration agency. They replied with a verdict from the EU court of justice, that a person who is 18 or older, who is healthy and able to provide for themselves may be deported to Afghanistan, even if they are without a network in the country. So, I asked them, would an 18-year-old from Sweden survive in Afghanistan? They didn’t understand what I was getting at, ”Why would a Swede go there in the first place?” was a response I thought unbelievable. What do they think is the difference between two people when neither of them has knowledge of the country?They couldn’t answer me.

Have you experienced the importance of that knowledge first hand?

—I was in Afghanistan in 2015, just before we flew to Sweden. I was 15-years-old and didn’t have any knowledge of the country as I had grown up as an undocumented refugee in Iran. There was tension in the country at the time, but the situation cannot be compared to the active conflict that exists today. I can distinctly recall walking in the middle of a street and seeing military trucks with American soldiers approaching further ahead. The street is crowded. We’re in a bazaar and people are looking to buy clothes and stuff, when all of a sudden everyone leaves in a hurry. The street is emptied as the military trucks are to pass through it — but I wasn’t aware of this routine. So I continued ahead, when I see a person in one of the trucks is aiming his weapon towards me. A civilian who witnesses the confrontation yells to the men that I’m new to Afghanistan, that I’m not familiar with the rules. So they let me go. But what if no one had defended me? I wouldn’t have made it through the day. That’s how I learned how vital the knowledge I speak of is.

It often feels like any progress is due to what you’ve accomplished through the movement Ung i Sverige, rather than on the initiative of politicians. Do you agree?

—When newspapers came up to me last year during our sit-in, and asked me who I was, I said: ”I am a 17-year-old girl, who is doing more than the prime minister in this country.” A prime minister who, in 2015, stood on stage and promised a sanctuary for those fleeing from war and torture. Two years later, I am out demonstrating for those rights and reminding him of that promise.

Your book’s title is ”Jag Stannar Till Slutet”, which roughly translates to ”I Will Fight Until the End”. What do you imagine the end being?

—We are working hard on being visible, and for people to hear our voices. I’ve been fighting constantly for a year now keeping this debate alive, and it is still on the table for politicians. Our fight ends with decision-makers taking responsibility, that’s what we aim for.

Make up artist: Ella Johansen