Hanif Mohammadi was surrounded by animals on his family’s farm in rural Afghanistan when the Taliban killed his parents and forced him to flee.
Now, the 17-year-old is an asylum seeker in Stockholm and doing what he does best: herding goats.
Wearing running shoes, jeans and a light brown sweater with his pitch-black hair tied back, Mohammadi checks his smartphone just like any ordinary teen as he follows a flock of goats in the green meadows of Lidingo, an island in the inner archipelago of Stockholm.
“In Afghanistan, we had a lot of goats and sheep so when I came to Lidingo… I wanted to help out and learn a little Swedish,” he says.
He’s been living in Sweden for a year and a half, anxiously waiting for his asylum request to be processed.
Mohammadi, who is from Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold, said the insurgents killed his father after he refused to join them. His uncle helped him escape before he ended up in Sweden.
“In Afghanistan, my life was really tough because I lost my parents… my family,” he tells AFP.
Holding back his tears, Mohammadi says: “I received a phone call last summer saying (the Taliban) had killed my uncle too”.
Surrounded by goats under a bright blue sky in Lidingo, Mohammadi is far away from the violence in his nation, in a home away from home.
And whenever he finds time off from school, Mohammadi joins his mammal friends.
He pulls down a tree branch to help the goats nibble on the leaves as one of the animals puts its front hooves on his waist to stand on its hind legs. Mohammadi bursts into laughter.
‘Keeping Sweden beautiful’
Henrik Ponten is the chairman of a community called “Get2Gether” which humourously refers to “get” (“goat” in Swedish).
With help from volunteers and asylum seekers, the community focuses on the conservation of an endangered Swedish goat species, whose milk is used to produce cheese at a factory in Lidingo.
“(The boys) come out into society and create new contacts in Sweden,” Ponten tells AFP. He says that herding helps asylum seekers better integrate.
“They’re very competent and good at herding because they’ve done it before,” he adds. “More importantly, they get to contribute to keeping Sweden beautiful.”
Afghans constitute by far the highest number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in Sweden.
While the asylum process can take more than a year on average, a majority of Afghan minors have their applications approved, according to the Swedish Migration Agency’s 2016 figures.
Around 1600 asylum applications by Afghan minors were submitted to the agency by the end of November 2016. Around 500 were rejected.
In a security assessment published earlier this month, the agency deemed some regions in Afghanistan such as Panjshir, Bamiyan and Daikundi “less dangerous” despite “increasing violence” in the war-torn country.
‘You’ll get killed’
The migration agency said that not everyone from Afghanistan will “automatically receive protection in Sweden” despite “a gradual deterioration” in security.
Mohammad Ali Mohammadi, a 15-year-old asylum seeker, fled to Sweden from the Taliban stronghold province of Maidan Wardak.
“There is a lot of fighting there, that’s why I fled,” Mohammadi tells AFP. “You’ll get killed if you go there.”
He’s been in Sweden for 18 months and while he waits to be granted a permanent residency to start a new life, herding is an opportunity to put his skills to use.
“I know how to take care of goats (because) I’m used to being around them,” he says as he giggles at one of the bleating animals.
Sweden, which in 2015 took in the largest number of refugees per capita in Europe, is a popular destination for young asylum seekers because of free education and health care.
Hanif Mohammadi, who never went to school in Afghanistan, says he wants to continue his education in Sweden.
“But I don’t even know if I get to stay here or not,” he adds.
Mohammad Ali, who also attends school in Sweden, says he dreams about becoming a pilot.
“But we’ll see what will happen to me.” — AFP