After Fleeing The Taliban, An Afghan Reinvents Himself In Sweden : Parallels An electrician who fled Afghanistan after the Taliban tried to force him to smuggle bombs into a military camp is starting a new life. He has just been approved to start a forestry apprenticeship.
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After Fleeing The Taliban, An Afghan Reinvents Himself In Sweden

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After Fleeing The Taliban, An Afghan Reinvents Himself In Sweden

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The flood of migrants into Europe means that Europeans have an ever-more-personal connection to trouble elsewhere. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley sends this profile of one asylum seeker and the Swedish woman who took him under her wing.

DAGMAR NORDBERG: (Speaking Swedish).

WALIULLAH HAFIZ: (Speaking Swedish).

NORDBERG: (Speaking Swedish).

HAFIZ: (Speaking Swedish).

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Dagmar Nordberg is giving Waliullah Hafiz, who goes by Wali, Swedish lessons at her kitchen table. The 60-year-old Swedish museum director met the 23-year-old migrant from Kabul on a train platform one freezing cold day last November.

NORDBERG: And he was standing there in a T-shirt with his jeans and his cotton gymnastic shoes. And I thought he was just one of these boys playing computer games all day long. And I've come to that age where I can say things. So I just passed him by and I said, (Speaking in Swedish). It's winter.

HAFIZ: Yeah, it was winter. I have a lot of problems. My heart have a lot of problems.

BEARDSLEY: Wali says he had so many problems, he couldn't think about the weather. And besides, he didn't own a jacket. Dagmar remembers he was so stressed he was sweating, but he replied politely.

NORDBERG: He said, I know ma'am. That was the first time I heard Wali's voice.

BEARDSLEY: Dagmar says she knew then that he was a lost refugee, and she could either go on with her life or help him.

NORDBERG: I just knew I had this choice here and now. And whatever I do it will have consequences.

BEARDSLEY: Four months later, Wali and Dagmar are having lunch in her cozy cabin in a southern Swedish forest next to the Baltic Sea. Wali has a university degree in electrical engineering. And he says back in Kabul he had a successful business with a contract to supply the Afghan army with propane gas canisters.

HAFIZ: All of people knew me. This is Wali. They have with me contract.

BEARDSLEY: One day the Taliban came and promised Wali a bigger house and a fancy car if he'd let them refill the army's empty gas bottles. Wali says they wanted to turn those bottles into bombs and expected him to take them back onto the base through the numerous checkpoints using his pass.

HAFIZ: A good life, and all of them take it, but (crying).

BEARDSLEY: Wali breaks down as he tells his story. He says the Taliban came to his house where he was with his wife and newborn son after he refused. He shows me a pink three-inch scar down the back of his head. He says one of the Taliban and hit him with the butt of his Kalashnikov and left him for dead.

HAFIZ: And this time, my mama told me, you don't do life in here. After this time I should go to the other province.

BEARDSLEY: When he awoke from a coma 13 days later, Wali says his mother told him he had to get out of Afghanistan.

NORDBERG: So there you have a young man having a nice little family, and then all of a sudden his existence is just blown to pieces.

BEARDSLEY: Now Dagmar is helping him with his asylum application. Wali wants to bring his wife and child to Sweden as soon as he can.

NORDBERG: I understand Wali's English.

HAFIZ: Yes. Dagmar know more languages.

BEARDSLEY: Wali helps Dagmar with jobs around her property. And Wali says Dagmar's the only one who understands his English.

HAFIZ: You know my language (laughter).

BEARDSLEY: There's another guest at lunch on this day. Jorgen Anderson is a forester clearing some trees in the surrounding woods, using a horse, not a tractor, to pull the logs out one by one. Wali has applied to be Jorgen's apprentice. And the Swedish government will pay Wali to learn forestry if his application is accepted. Jorgen says he never thought of taking an Afghan refugee as an apprentice, but he's glad he can help.

JORGEN ANDERSON: I'm happy to do that. If he feels better, I feel better.

BEARDSLEY: What will you have to teach him? Where do you start?

ANDERSON: I have to teach him everything because he never been in the forest before.

BEARDSLEY: Wali says in Sweden he finally feels like a human being again. Two weeks later, I learn that the Swedish government has approved Wali's apprenticeship. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Ronneyby, Sweden.

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