The refugee trail doesn’t just lead from south to north – sometimes it goes the other way. Yesterday morning, a Nigerian refugee was deported from Iceland, in the far north of Europe. His name is Eze Okafor. He’s a friend of mine, and he’s had his asylum request in various stages of the Icelandic asylum system since 2012. He fled Nigeria after Boko Haram splintered his forehead with a machete and executed his brother. After applying for asylum in Sweden, and being refused, Eze fled Swedish justice and came to Iceland. The authorities there have for four years contended that they’re not obliged to evaluate his case, because Sweden already did. Even the ridiculously long time this non-evaluation has lasted hasn’t been taken into account by the so-called “Foreigners’ office”, the Icelandic asylum and deportation agency, even though an appeals committee said “everything pointed to” the case having breached legal time limits.
I’ve talked to Eze a few times while he was waiting and waiting and waiting. He’s always said he won’t accept deportation, because he can’t. Nigeria is not an option for him. He’d fight deportation, he said. And yesterday, in the airport at Keflavík, he did.
The awkward look of Life Going On As Usual around him didn’t stop once he was dragged onto the plane, where two women stood up to protest his deportation and called on other passengers to do the same.
Nobody joined the protest. Police was called and the women roughly dragged out, arrested and interrogated for hours. The pilot then asked police to make sure that no more protesters were on board, which they apparently did, though how they did it remains a mystery. (Flying an unwilling and violently arrested refugee towards death was apparently cool with the pilot, but not having anyone protesting it mid-flight.)
But that wasn’t it. In a scene straight out of a Hollywood movie, the stewardesses then walked through the plane and, according to a journalist who was inside, “asked passengers if they were happy with the plane departing.” This offered every single passenger the chance to save Eze from deportation. Not a single person did.
Eze was released in Stockholm, free to use his nonexistent funds to sustain himself. He thus ended up on the street, where he slept the first night. He’s hoping to get friends of friends, or simply strangers, to host him until he knows what he can do. But while the Swedish state didn’t want the responsibility of housing him, they still commanded that he leave the country before June 1 – within five days. After that, a deportation order will be hanging over him, and the Swedish authorities will wait until he walks into their net, and then deliver him to the murderers of his family.
Eze’s case is not unique, but it shows better than many how insidious European borders are. His deportation hinged on the harmony of the Swedish state and of police, the airliner, its crew and the passengers in Iceland, which have now put Eze’s life at risk. This deportation could have been stopped by any one of dozens of people merely not doing something, or by a few people just standing up and saying “no.”
Rights always get eroded where the resistance is the least, but the erosion doesn’t stop there. As the good old bishop might have said: “First they came for refugees, but I said nothing because I wasn’t a refugee.” Borders are everywhere, in the behaviour of all of us, and sometimes we’re given a rare and sudden chance to break them down. Let’s keep it in mind, so we don’t waste it.