The United States allowed the Afghan interpreters who worked with the U.S. Forces for over a year to apply for visas to the United States. However, it was not smooth sailing for them as these interpreters also endured personal risks and bureaucratic red tape before they were allowed to leave Afghanistan. Now that they are in the U.S. they are facing a new struggle – that of settling to life in America. PBS special correspondent Sean Carberry reports on one Afghan interpreters’ challenges and the story of a man who is trying to help them.
Afghan interpreters were crucial to the members of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, for they worked tirelessly as military interpreters but when they were trying to leave the country, the granting of U.S. visas was a complicated and long process.
The visa process was streamlined in 2013 by the U.S. Congress and over 15,000 Afghan interpreters including their families were able to come to the United States. But as a special correspondent came to know, new hurdles awaited the Afghans.
Special correspondent Sean Carberry talked with Aminullah Sayed, a 26-year old Afghan interpreter from Kabul. He served as a military interpreter for the U.S. Forces for seven years, and had ventured into dangerous territories in Afghanistan while doing his work. Sayed, his wife and his son finally arrived in February after waiting for several years.
Sayed and his family are now in Woodbridge, Virginia, in an apartment that has been paid for by the government for three months. They have Medicaid and food stamps but since the apartment rental will be due shortly, Sayed has been trying to look for work but to no avail. He does not have a car and so he walks around while trying to find work, filling out an application form with every business that has a “help wanted” sign.
He told Carberry that he has been hoping that one of those businesses he applied to will call him soon. He had received training on how to search for a job from the Catholic Charities, one of the nine refugee assistance agencies contracted by the U.S. government.
The resettlement organizations like the Catholic Charities are expected to find initial housing for the refugees and likewise assist them in finding a job and signing up for benefits, just like the benefits given to refugees from South Sudan and Syria. Close to 70 percent of the Afghan interpreters were able to come to America with the help of a refugee assistance agency.
Sayed is feeling depressed since he has not found a job yet and worries about his family going out on the street. He is wondering who will provide them help and support if he cannot find a job before the rental assistance expires.
One man who made it his personal vocation to help is U.S. Army Reserve Captain Matt Zeller, who founded No One Left Behind, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. area that is proving assistance to Afghan interpreters. His life was saved by his Afghan interpreter, Janis Shinwari, when he was ambushed by two Taliban members.
Now Shinwari and other Afghan interpreters already in the U.S volunteer their time to help others through the organization. Capt. Zeller said that he should not be doing this job as the government should be providing for the refugees. The budget of the defense department though, is quite constrained.
The interpreters Carberry talked to said that they are willing to work for their families but they wished that they are given more assistance time to allow them to settle to life in the U.S. and find work.