Sweden Deports Victims of Child Marriage and Torture to Afghanistan

[Sweden] please just kill me. I would rather die than be sent back to Afghanistan.

Those are the roughly translated words of an 18-year-old refugee in Sweden who fled child marriage, violence and abuse. After 2 years of uncertainty in Sweden, she has just received a deportation order. She is to be sent back to the hell she fled from in Afghanistan. This young woman has learnt Swedish and wants no more than to give back to her new society. She wants peace, freedom and safety.

Sweden has a long reputation for taking strides in humanity, gender equality and human rights. In 2014, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt called upon Swedes to open their hearts to the surge of refugees arriving in Europe. Yet, in the past years Sweden has reversed its stance, closing its borders and limiting the options for asylum seekers to stay in the country. Nils Muiznieks, Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, is concerned about these developments. Read his 2018 report on Sweden.

Sweden is sending civilian asylum seekers back to war torn Afghanistan, even as insecurity has increased in recent years.

A new UN report documents 2018 as the year with the highest recorded number of civilians killed in the Afghan conflict. The report also shows the increased toll of the conflict on children.

To make matters worse, Sweden is also sending back refugees who face grave risks should they return to Afghanistan. This includes girls who have fled child marriage, young LGBTQ individuals, and those who have converted from Islam.

Sweden can no longer take a prize as a leader for human rights, if this torture continues within our borders. Many refugees who receive deportation decisions arrived in Sweden as minors and have lived in the country for years. Many have learned to speak the language, and built networks through schools, churches, sports clubs and human rights organizations. However, these asylum seekers are not believed or deemed trustworthy as they tell their stories to Swedish authorities.

Many suffer from ill mental health due to the uncertainty of their lives and the many risks they face.

Karolinska Institutet released a report in February 2018 showing the alarming number of suicides among refugees in Sweden. The suicide rate among unaccompanied refugees up to the age of 21 was 51.2 per 100,000 in 2017, compared to 5.2 per 100,000 among the same age group of the general population in 2016. If these frightening statistics are not evidence of stories of war, torture and abuse, I don’t know what is.

Desperate to avoid deportation, some turn to the media to tell their stories. This increases the risk of being found by their perpetrators and family members. The ones who believe they deserve to be killed in the name of honor for leaving their marriages or religion.

Sweden cannot take a prize as one of the best countries for women, either. That statement only refers to women of privilege and women who already live in safety. If Sweden deports girls (and boys) who have been victims of child marriage in Afghanistan, we are not acknowledging the human rights violation that affects 35% of girls. We are ignoring the fact that these refugees lack the support networks they need to avoid abuse and violence upon returning.

In the Joint Way Forward agreement between the EU and the Islamic State of Afghanistan it is agreed that: “Unaccompanied minors are not to be returned without successful tracing of family members or without adequate reception and care-taking arrangements having been put in place in Afghanistan.”

As child marriage is an institution built by families, the family is not a safe space to be returned to.

This also applies to those who have come out as LGBTQ or who now identify as Christian. Death threats among these groups of refugees are commonplace and returning is not an option. What we need to do is believe them when they share their stories and use our privilege to advocate for them.

Sweden needs to act now to avoid sending people to face violence or even death in the name of honor.

Learn even more:

I Will Write Every Day

When she closed her eyes,
They said, if you open them,
We will wash them with acid.

When she opened her mouth,
They said, if we hear you laughing,
You will be suffocated.

When she raised her hand,
To ask why being a woman is a crime,
She was met with brutality.

This is neither a poem nor a nightmare,
This is my life and that of many other women,
Who are living under the weight of violence.

They forced me to wear a burqa
When I was barely a teen.
They said it was for my protection,
Still they stared at me like wolves.
I could not see under the blue cloth,
I slipped and fell.

I was livid,
But the shopkeepers laughed at me,
“Watch your step,” they said.

I heard their laughter,
And watched as they laughed at me.
But I will not be silenced.

I will write every single day.
So that my life will be a lesson and my fight, a reason not to give up.

Zahra Wakilzada is a high school student and a member of Free Women Writers. She is a writer and poet who writes in Persian and English and an advocate for gender equality and justice.

We Have Written a Book!

I am a member of Free Women Writers – a grassroots collective of volunteer Afghan women writers and students – and we recently published a new book, You Are Not Alone.

It’s the feminist book everyone should add to their 2018 reading lists! (George Washington University already has…)

The short guidebook was written in response to the fact that 87% of women in Afghanistan have faced verbal, physical and/or sexual violence at home. Yet too often, women feel alone in their struggle for financial independence and freedom from emotional, physical and sexual abuse. The tragic reality is that there are systematic efforts in Afghanistan to keep women at home and prevent their full participation in society. Everywhere they turn, legal and economic barriers are in place for women seeking justice, divorce, and custody. Rampant sexism further stigmatizes women survivors of sexualized violence and keeps survivors’ stories from being heard.

You Are Not Alone is part of the antidote, an Afghan version of Chicken Soup for the Soul. It is a collection of stories written and inspired by four years’ worth of conversations with Afghan women facing gender-based violence. The comforting food-for-thought comes in the form of checklists with concrete steps to take and advice on how women can help themselves, seek legal aid, find support, and protect their mental health.

A guide like this is unprecedented in Afghanistan and comes at a crucial time to enable Afghan women to add their voices to the international #MeToo movement. Culturally-taboo issues such as marital rape and child abuse are discussed while myths about the drivers of violence are debunked.

While it is written for women in Afghanistan, I believe You Are Not Alone is incredibly important for women worldwide to read. Gender-based violence is a global issue, and though it differs in extent and form in different contexts, many of its drivers are the same. The lessons from this book are universal. Until we start sharing stories with one another and until we reassure one another that what we’re going through is not our fault, then the cycle of violence will continue unchallenged.

With this book, Free Women Writers collective prove once again that the pen is mightier than the sword and that sisterhood can save lives. By sharing stories of encouragement and support, Free Women Writers reassure women that if you are a survivor of violence, it is not your fault. Every woman has the right to live happily and to feel safe and respected. Every woman deserves a chance to live a life free from violence and fear.

Every reader of You Are Not Alone can contribute to promoting respect for women and fighting violence against women. All members and contributors to Free Women Writers are volunteers, so 100 percent of proceeds from the book go to funding scholarships and more empowering resources for Afghan women.

You Are Not Alone is currently available in Persian, Pashtu, and English, and you can buy directly from Amazon.

Aisha Azimi is pursuing her BA in Communications in Washington, DC. A member of Free Women Writers and Partnerships Director for the Love Your Natural Self Foundation, Aisha is dedicated to helping girls gain the confidence and resources they need to reach their dreams.

Always a Survivor

When he touched her,
She never wanted it, but that was never his concern.

When he raped her,
He said he was strong and he could do anything he wanted.
He tried to take away her dreams.

He thought he had the power to destroy her world.
He said, “If you don’t marry me, no one else will take you.”

She was not ashamed.
She cleaned up her tears and stood tall.
She achieved her goals,
Crossing them off, one by one.

When he saw her again, he asked:
“You have a bad reputation now, right?
Nobody married you, right?
I warned you.”

She said with a smile:
“I heard you got married.
Does your wife know who you really are?
I don’t have a bad name. I am a teacher.
I am teaching your son to respect women.
Because I don’t want anyone to be like you.”

He looked at the woman’s bold face.
He could never believe
That one day she would become the heroine of her own life.

Photo credit: Free Women Writers

Zahra Wakilzada is a sophomore in high school, an aspiring writer and poet, and a member of Free Women Writers.