A viral video quickly making its rounds on social media shows a Swedish passenger defiantly refusing to take her seat on a plane until a refugee being deported is escorted off.
“He will most likely get killed if he stays on this plane,” 21-year-old student Elin Ersson said in a 2017 video she livestreamed from the plane and posted to Facebook. “As long as he is not on the plane, then I will comply.”
“As long as I’m standing up, and if more people are standing up, then the pilot can’t take off,” she continued. “All I want to do is stop the deportation… This is all perfectly legal, and I have not committed a crime.”
Ersson’s protest was not without controversy. A male flight attendant unsuccessfully tried to get Ersson to stop filming the protest and take her seat, but Ersson continued to stand, saying she was doing what she could to save a man’s life. At one point in the video, a British passenger angrily approaches her, tells her she’s frightening children and delaying the plane from reaching its destination, and tries to take her phone away.
“What is more important? A man’s life, or your time?” Ersson asked the man.
Another passenger tried to convince Ersson to sit down by pointing out that the refugee’s deportation was in line with the laws of her country.
“I’m trying to change my country’s rules. I don’t like them. It’s not right to send people to hell,” Ersson said.
Eventually, more passengers became support of Ersson’s protest, with some reportedly standing in solidarity with her and the Afghan refugee. Eventually, the refugee was taken off the plane after a 15-minute standoff, and Ersson burst into tears while passengers applauded her efforts.
German news site Deutsche Welle posted the video on Facebook, and the video has been viewed more than 2.3 million times just 13 hours after being posted. While some reactions criticized Ersson, others applauded her courage and bravery.
“Many say well he will just be deported on the next flight. What you should see is her standing up….clearly this is her not allowing this to happen on her watch,” commenter Tatiana Munoz wrote, which got 3,000 likes on its own. “Now imagine if everyone had her strength to stand up for their beliefs as this young woman so bravely did. She is an amazing brave strong woman that’s what I see.”
“These are the type of people that will save humanity. Though it was one small victory, I personally thank you for your courage!” Renee Cawley wrote.
“One person can make a difference. Standing for right things and walking alone on right path makes a person great.This is what all RELIGIONS teach us. BRAVO,” wrote commenter Naureen Mutahir.
Ersson’s view that the man would likely be killed if deported to Afghanistan is, sadly, not inaccurate. Vision of Humanity’s 2018 Global Peace Index ranked Afghanistan as the second-most dangerous country in the world (next to Syria), using criteria such as frequency of violent demonstrations, violent crime, political instability, political terror, incarceration, and deaths from internal conflict.
Congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has also called on Americans to use similar nonviolent tactics to reunite immigrant children with their families, saying protesters should peacefully occupy ICE facilities and airports.
“We have to show people that we’re willing to walk the walk and put our money where our mouth is,” Ocasio-Cortez told Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman. “Our country is in a moral crisis.”
“We need to occupy every airport. We need to occupy every border. We need to occupy every ICE office until those kids are back with their parents, period,” she added.
Scott Alden is a freelance contributor covering national politics, education, and environmental issues. He is a proud Toledo University graduate, and lives in the suburbs of Detroit.