Temporary blog of the CWI

Sweden: Afghanistan’s refugee women want justice!

Negras Rezal with her family at the sit-down strike under the monument of the labour movement of Sweden.

In Sweden, the government claims to be “feminist” and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child has just been adopted as law. Nevertheless, women and young people are deported every week to the world’s most dangerous countries, and families with children from Afghanistan are denied residence permits. For more than two months, mainly mothers and children have been engaged in a sit-down strike on Norra Bantorget in Stockholm (a square with strong links to the history of the workers’ movement).

By Elin Gaufin, Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI Sweden)

On 10 September, the Swedish Parliament opened after the summer break. At the same time, the state carried out the largest forced deportation ever – 50 young people were flown on a chartered plane to Afghanistan. Nearly a thousand people demonstrated together with the sit-down strike in central Stockholm. Negras Rezal has been active for the entirety of the sit-down strike’s 62 days. She talks about her case:

“Afghanistan is unsafe everywhere. There are battles even in even in (the capital) Kabul, such as the terrible attack on the wedding recently that killed over 100 people. My family has been threatened, my father-in-law was killed by the Taliban.”

“In Afghanistan, women are forced to wear a veil. Since the sit-down strike began, I have appeared in the media several times and after that, I cannot return because of my husband’s family. I can never go back to Afghanistan.”

“I was not allowed to go to school, I had no rights. I do not want this to happen to my daughters, that they would not be allowed to go to school and face threats from the mullahs and imams. It was about that that the poem that I read on the demonstration was about. I’m not scared anymore.”

“I have been denied asylum. Despite that, my daughter has a doctor’s certificate that says that she is sick and can therefore not be deported. Our asylum process is closed but we will continue to fight.”

Sweden was one of the first countries in Europe to sign an agreement with Afghanistan facilitating returns. That is, Sweden pays money to send refugees back to a country at war. Most unaccompanied young people sent there have never been to Afghanistan as they were raised as paperless refugees in Iran. Many belong to the Hazaras, a group that is discriminated against in both Iran and Afghanistan. In other words, the permanent flight continues. On the demonstration, there were many who have been in contact with Afghans who have been deported and who can tell of tragedies. It is usually not long before the deported Afghans are threatened by the police or the Taliban. And they are forced to flee again.

In 2018, Afghanistan was the world’s bloodiest conflict after 18 years of US-led war and 40 years of constant warfare. Trump wants to pull out, and has negotiated with the Taliban who have promised that the country would not become a haven for terrorists, which is as absurd as it sounds. The Taliban control 60% of the country’s area. The government has not been involved in the negotiations. Despite some progress with more girls attending school today than before, the country is still one of the most dangerous for women and two out of three girls do not attend school (according to Time Magazine).

A Gallup surveys in 2018 showed that Afghan women were the least satisfied women in the world with their freedom to choose what to do with their lives. Only 33% said they were satisfied. 80% of women are outside the workforce, 91% have no higher education than primary school level. Now more women (47%) than men (35%) say that they want to leave the country. The share that wants to leave has tripled since 2016. 

Swedish capitalism’s double standards

The double standard in Sweden is shocking – constantly trying to portray itself as a humanitarian superpower while also participating in the US-led war and the building of walls against refugees. On 17 October, the Swedish government awarded the Per Anger Prize, the Swedish government’s award for human rights and democracy, this time to the Afghan journalist, Najwa Alimi. She specialises in social problems and women’s rights. She was interviewed in ‘Dagens nyheter’ and described how she reacted after Donald Trump cancelled talks with the Taliban:

“We drew a deep sigh of relief. The agreement that was negotiated contained no guarantees on women’s rights. All women have reason to be worried, because if the Taliban comes back, we will lose everything we have won over the past 18 years. Women will not be allowed to work outside the home and girls will not be allowed to go to school. I don’t want to pay that price for peace.”

Afghanistan refuses to accept families with children. Therefore, it is even worse that Sweden does not allow families with children to stay – they cannot be deported either and so end up stuck in limbo. Instead, the Swedish state makes life as difficult as possible for families with children by refusing them residence and work permits and by evicting them from their accommodation etc. to make them return “voluntarily”. Despite along sit-down strike by families this summer, this humanitarian abuse is hidden in the Swedish political debate.

The sit-down strike has a proud precedent in the form of the long sit-down strike of the Afghan youth in summer and autumn 2017. This was led by a “Greta Thunberg” of the refugees, Fatemeh Khavari, who has gone on to continue fighting for refugees all over the world. The young people’s sit-down strike made serious attempts to win support from different parts of the workers’ movement and others who are fighting to defend the welfare state in Sweden. The sit-down strike also won a half-victory, which has allowed thousands of young people to stay, as long as they study in high school.

But the political establishment has, since then, taken further steps closer to the conservative, racist right. The government consists of the Social Democrats and the Green Party and governs in agreement with the Centre Party and the Liberals. The attacks on welfare and workers’ rights have never been so hard. The racist Sweden Democrats demand not only zero immigration but also programmes for refugees to return. The largest traditional right-wing party, the Moderates, demand 70% less asylum seekers in Sweden! And the government has decided to keep the new refugee law from 2015, that we have referred to as the “shock doctrine” and which has led Sweden from having one of the highest refugee reception rates to having some of the toughest asylum laws in Europe.

Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (CWI in Sweden) supports and participates in the refugees’ strikes. We demand that the workers’ movement as a whole also participates. When the workers’ movement does not defend the right to asylum, the right exploits the situation by pitting groups against each other. Now, for example, they have managed to get through legislation that allows for significantly lower wages for new arrivals, which will lead to a reduction in wages for all. In reality, the welfare state is dependent on more people moving to Sweden since so few are already working within the education sector and in health and social care. International solidarity has, since the days of the Communist Manifesto, been a guide for socialists and that banner must be raised again.