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This 20-Year-Old Smuggles Refugees from Denmark to Sweden

Activist Calle Vangstrup believes it's okay to break the law when that law is unfair or inhumane.

This article originally appeared on VICE Denmark

When the refugee crisis washed over Scandinavia back in September 2015, some Danes started helping asylum seekers cross from Denmark into Sweden. However, as Sweden began tightening its border controls over the past few months, that activity has become illegal.Only this past weekend for example, Swedish police arrested a Danish taxi driver under the suspicion of human trafficking in the port town of Malmö. In addition, two men were arrested for crossing the Öresund strait with a rubber dinghy which Swedish police suspect was stolen in the Danish city of Helsingör.


But not everyone gets into the business of smuggling people for profit; Medmenneskesmuglerne (a Danish pun that loosely translates to 'Humane Traffickers') are a group of activists who have spent the past three months helping refugees cross Öresund. I recently got in touch with one of their members, 20-year-old Calle Vangstrup, for a chat.

VICE: How did you start helping people cross over the border to Sweden?
Calle Vangstrup: I started in the fall of 2015, when the first rumours about refugees arriving in the Danish border town of Rödby began to circulate. I suggested sailing them across Öresund, because I figured either Danish or Swedish police would be keeping a very close eye on the situation. We then found some refugees at Copenhagen's Central Station and sailed them to Sweden too. I did that about three or four more times.

Do you remember how you felt sailing those people across the Öresund for the first time?
I was kind of paranoid. Not so much on the trip over, but we didn't know if the police would be waiting for us when we got home. We posted a picture on Facebook as we were sailing over, where we explained why we felt that what we were doing was okay. It got a lot of Likes and Shares, so we became nervous that the authorities would be waiting for us. But that didn't happen so we just kept doing our thing.

I feel it's okay to break the law that I've broken, because I see it as an unfair and inhumane law.


How many people were you able to sail to Sweden in one go?
A maximum of 15 people at a time, including our crew and interpreter.

And how many have you personally sailed across the strait?
Somewhere between 20 and 30 people.

I heard that you ended up getting charged with human trafficking. Is that correct?
It is. A few months back, I was contacted by the Danish police, who informed me that I was being charged with human trafficking under part 8 of paragraph 58 of the Danish Aliens Act. There are two paragraphs in Danish Law that concern smuggling – the second is about receiving money for it, which makes it a criminal offence. The range of penalties also varies; I can only be sentenced to a maximum of two years in jail for what I did, whereas the maximum penalty for violating the other paragraph is eight years.

Read: Protestors Block Trains Over Anti-Refugee Sweden-Denmark Border Checks

How do you feel about being charged with human trafficking?
I've followed my heart and my moral code. The justice system can sentence me if they think what I've done is wrong but I am okay with myself. I feel it's okay to break the law that I've broken, because I see it as an unfair and inhumane law.

Do you feel a sense of personal responsibility towards refugees?
Yes, I believe we all have the responsibility to help others when they are in need. I wouldn't be okay with just waving some flags at the border and abandoning the asylum seekers to the police.

Should we expect to see more boats ferrying people across the trait now that Sweden has tightened border controls?
Yeah, maybe. There are plenty of harbours on both sides of Öresund. The only problem is that most boats have been pulled out of the water now, because it's winter. However, if the weather keeps being that mild, we're eventually going to see more hobbyists in the water so it'll get really easy to hide refugee boats in the crowd.

Ven is a Swedish island in the middle of Öresund. It's only five nautical miles from Rungsted Harbour (in Denmark), so if you sail the refugees there you end up spending a very limited amount of time in Swedish waters. Refugees can take the ferry to Malmö from there.

Will you personally be smuggling more people into Sweden?
I think so, even though it's gotten harder now. Swedish border controls have scared a lot of people out of helping the refugees. The Swedish Coast Guard has also increased their presence. But it's not impossible.