With the recently announced plans to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021 currently under way, onlookers are beginning to question the fate of Afghan interpreters who assisted United States forces in navigating Pashto and other languages native to the country. In a recent op-ed for The Hill, Greg Fairbank, a director of the non-profit organization No One Left Behind, has called for giving these interpreters Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) in order to prioritize their safety, as the Taliban and the Islamic State (IS) have called for the capital punishment of any interpreter who provided linguistic assistance to the American forces.
Activists have long advocated for SIV privileges for Afghan interpreters who have risked their lives throughout the duration of the war in Afghanistan. In 2014, No One Left Behind, which focuses on advocating for interpreters who have aided the U.S. military, reported that at least 300 interpreters and their family members were killed by the Taliban, IS, or other terrorist groups. Many of them were waiting for visas to immigrate to the United States, which to this day has still not expedited SIV programs for Afghan interpreters in spite of the risks the interpreters take in remaining in their home country.
Throughout the war, United States forces were highly dependent upon native Afghan citizens to work with them as interpreters, due to a shortage of American linguists and interpreters with knowledge of languages spoken widely in Afghanistan, like Pashto and Dari. However, despite their work for the country, Afghan interpreters have struggled to immigrate to the United States in a timely fashion and remain in an extremely dangerous situation. In 2020, the United Kingdom outlined its own plans for relocating Afghan interpreters who helped their troops, expanding resettlement plans to allow an additional 100 interpreters to immigrate to the United Kingdom.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also stalled efforts to process interpreters’ visa applications. In January, the Washington Post reported that, after a complete halt on visa interviews in March 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul would finally resume processing SIV applications for Afghans who worked with U.S. forces, including interpreters. According to the Washington Post, almost 19,000 Afghans’ SIV applications were stuck in processing as of September 2019, a number which is likely to have grown significantly since the pandemic delayed application processing even further.