Norwegian teen fighting deportation to Afghanistan: 'This is our last hope'

Lawmakers set to vote on deportation today.

January 18, 2018, 9:06 AM
PHOTO: Taibah Abbasi, 18, has been battling the Norwegian government after her family's refugee status in Norway was revoked.
Taibah Abbasi, 18, has been battling the Norwegian government after her family's refugee status in Norway was revoked.
Taibeh Abbasi/Amnesty International

— -- For 18-year-old Taibah Abbasi, Thursday's vote in parliament will almost certainly be another blow in a losing battle with the Norwegian government over her future.

Her message to politicians in Oslo today: "Don't take away my dreams. Don't let me lie awake at night wondering when they will take me."

She knows what that's like.

Abbasi was born in Iran after her Afghan parents fled the Taliban in Afghanistan. Six years ago, Abbasi, her two brothers and mother left Iran on foot and traveled to Norway.

"We were finally safe," she told ABC News, sitting in a burger joint in Trondheim, more than 200 miles north of Oslo.

Or so she thought.

PHOTO: Taibah Abbasi, 18, has been battling the Norwegian government after her family's refugee status in Norway was revoked.
Taibah Abbasi, 18, has been battling the Norwegian government after her family's refugee status in Norway was revoked.
Taibeh Abbasi/Amnesty International

Granted refugee status and residency permits upon arrival in 2012, the family saw their status revoked two years later by the Norwegian government. The decision put the Abbasi family in imminent danger of being deported to Afghanistan, a country to which Abbasi and her younger brother have never been.

The family is now in the country illegally. In 2015, the police arrived in the middle of the night, broke down the door, handcuffed the Abbasi children and dragged the family to a Norwegian jail.

"That's how Norwegian authorities deal with refugee children," the family's lawyer, Erik Vatne, told ABC News.

Debating safety in Afghanistan

When the residency permits were granted, Vatne said, the government's assessment was that the Abbasi family could not return to Afghanistan without being persecuted. In short, it was too dangerous.

Two years later, the situation in Afghanistan remained exactly the same for the family, Vatne said, but the Norwegian government suddenly decided Afghanistan was safe.

When Vatne appealed the first decision, "the government response was that 'Afghanistan was a safe place. Or at least there were places that were safe. Kabul was safe,' but Afghanistan and Kabul are obviously not safe."

But the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration has said Afghanistan is safe enough for asylum seekers to return, according to Norway Today. “I understand that many people can perceive Afghanistan as an unsafe country, but this is about what thresholds should apply to asylum cases,” the head of the directorate, Frode Forfang, said, the newspaper reported in November.

It also reported that the Norwegian Directorate of Immigration will "not change its practice for single youngsters who had temporary residence because they were minors. They can thus be sent out of the country when they are ... 18 years of age."

Other European countries sending immigrants back to Afghanistan

Abbasi is not alone. European countries are deporting thousands of Afghan teenage refugees, many of whom have never been to their native country.

The number of Afghans returned by European countries to Afghanistan between 2015 and 2016 nearly tripled to 9,460 from 3,290, Amnesty International reported.

Norway returned 760 people to Afghanistan in 2016, and 172 in the first half of 2017, according to Eurostat.

During that same period, the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose to a record high, according to the United Nations

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan reported that 2016 was the deadliest year on record for civilians in Afghanistan, with 11,418 people killed or injured. More than two-thirds of the civilian victims were women and children, it said.

Oslo politicians will today debate the safety of Afghanistan, and a new proposal that would temporarily halt deportations.

"I'm not optimistic at all that Parliament will stop deportations," Vatne said of today's political vote.

While halting deportations for the moment wouldn't guarantee Abbasi’s long-term status, it's a win that would give the family a good night's sleep and give Vatne's legal team time to strategize.

"This is our last hope," Abbasi's older brother, Yassin, 20, told ABC News. "But they could take you at any time."

Norwegian politicians have the power to stop Abbasi's deportation immediately, Amnesty International says.

"European governments have the authority and the power to decide right now it is too dangerous to return anyone to Afghanistan," Anna Shea, Refugee and Migrant Rights Researcher for Amnesty International, told ABC News.

"They could stop deportations today," Shea said, "but they are choosing not to exercise that power."

Norway's immigration minister, Sylvi Listhaug, told the Norwegian Parliament in November it's "important that decisions [on asylum applications] are based on a strong foundation of facts,” according to Views and News from Norway.

“This has nothing to do with whether you’re kind and cooperative, but whether you have need for protection. We can’t undermine the asylum system," Listhaug said, according to the news site.

Still, Listhaug said last year that she would not travel to Kabul herself, citing the security situation, according to the Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

Amnesty International gets involved

Amnesty International has recently championed Abbasi’s fight, and supported the grassroots campaign started by her classmates. This week, the organization sent the Norwegian Prime Minister 100,000 signatures supporting Abbasi.

"There are a range of policy and legal and political tools at the government's disposal," Shea added, "but they are choosing to let these returns go ahead and they are choosing to put people’s lives at serious risk."

Vatne, the Norwegian immigration lawyer, says he's now out of options.

"Deporting this family would violate both Norwegian law and international law," Vatne said. "But I don't see any legal way forward. This is it."

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