After being attacked by two racist thugs, this refugee activist is more determined to fight than ever

Bethan McKernan@mck_beth
Wednesday 22 June 2016 16:00
news
Picture: Taffan Ako Sharif

Taffan Ako Sharif arrived in Sweden from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq with her mother when she was just three years old.

She has been an active campaigner on refugee and asylum seekers' issues her entire adult life. "I try to give back", Taffan said. "I feel like I owe Sweden so much. I work so hard every day for a better society."

But during a summer evening's walk on Sunday, Taffan terrifyingly came face to face with the hatred she works to combat when she was physically assaulted by two men who used racist slurs.

Picture: Taffan Ako Sharif

One of the men grabbed her from behind and put his arm around her neck. Luckily Taffan's self defence knowledge came in handy, and she was able to wrest herself free after jabbing her attacker in the stomach. The other man threw a rock at her, which struck her on the forehead. But after a kick to the crotch, the pair ran away.

The 21-year-old was left with small wounds on her hand and head, a lot of blood, and a ripped shirt. She told indy100 that she was shaken, but physically fine.

"I'm more than OK", she said.

I refuse to be a victim. I won't let them have the satisfaction. This has only strengthened my convictions and motivated me further.

Taffan is keen to highlight there has been a worrying rise in far-right sentiment in Sweden.

I was attacked just because of the colour of my hair, my eyes. I wasn't Swedish enough to them. It was the wrong place at the wrong time... If it wasn't for that self defence class I took several years ago I do not know how well I would've gotten out of this.

An alarming report from the anti-racism Expo Foundation estimates neo-Nazi activity in the peaceful Scandinavian country has doubled in the last three years. Much of it has been a backlash to the perception Sweden is taking in too many people in the face of the refugee crisis, Expo says.

Taffan working in Iraqi Kurdistan. Picture: Taffan Ako Sharif

Female activists face dangers just for carrying out their work, Taffan added, as the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox, who campaigned on the behalf of Syrian and Yemeni people displaced by war, soberly reminded the UK last week.

People who work [within human rights activism] do face risks. I definitely feel like we lost a leader [when Jo Cox died]. She was so passionate and supportive. But we have to keep on.

In order to help the police with leads in identifying the two men, Taffan repeated her defiant message in an open post on Facebook. It was widely shared, and picked up by Swedish media:

I'm more Swedish than what you two will ever be. I'm all Sweden stands for. Diversity, democracy, acceptance and respect.

I came to this wonderful country as a political refugee, with my mother. I'm studying at a Swedish university, working, paying taxes and driving integration projects for a better Sweden... For a better society for people like you and me. I'm Sweden.

Taffan, who is a One Young World ambassador, added that the irony is that the attack has only raised the profile of the issues she cares about. It has also inspired her to work harder on integration projects.

Picture: Taffan Ako Sharif

There will be at least one new focus, though: the activist is going to arrange new self defence classes for both newly arrived and Swedish women this summer.

Ultimately, the ugly attack has made her love for her adopted homeland even stronger.

It's amazing what people have written to me in the past few days, it's heartwarming. So many people say they want to help or follow my work now... that is the real Sweden.

More: One team competing at the Rio Olympics is made up of athletes without a home - refugees

More: Nigel Farage just called himself a 'victim' when talking about Jo Cox and refugees

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