‘We Are Here Alone’: An Afghan Translator’s Plea for Help
Romal Noori worked for the United States Army for almost a decade. Now that the United States officially ends its military mission in Afghanistan… “It is time to end America’s longest war.” “… tens of thousands of Afghan performers and entrepreneurs like Romal fear being targeted by the Taliban. “Yesterday evening, too many attacks on the base. The children, they were crying. I told them there were no Taliban. Nothing is going to happen to us, don’t worry. We spoke to Romal over the course of a month as the US military completes its final withdrawal. We offered to protect his identity, but he chose to step in front of the camera to draw attention to his case. “Salvation.” “Salvation.” Emboldened by the withdrawal of American troops, the Taliban have invaded large swathes of the country in recent months. The impact reached Bagram, which is home to the largest US military base in Afghanistan. For most of Romal’s life, American troops were nearby. He started working for the army when he was a teenager. In recent years, several hundred translators and their families have been killed, according to an Afghan allied advocacy group called No One Left Behind. To recognize these risks, Congress created a program called the Special Immigrant Visa or SIV Romal is one of more than 20,000 Afghans who have applied, but time is running out. “The SIV program will by no means be a program fast enough to bring the Afghans to safety. Jennifer Patota works with candidates like Romal at the International Refugee Assistance Project. She says the SIV program is plagued by a significant backlog, arbitrary refusals and stringent requirements that are difficult to meet. “The most difficult step in the SIV application process is the first step, which is the HOM approval process, also known as COM approval.” To take this first step, SIV candidates are completely dependent on supervisors and US companies for proof of their work. “It is very possible that people will spend years trying to locate their employers who have gone bankrupt or to locate their US citizen supervisors.” It took Romal several years to prepare the documents, which means that it is only at the start of a 14-step process. “The American Legion demands that the United States government act now. For several months, veterans groups, lawmakers and advocates have called on the White House for an emergency evacuation to bring SIV candidates to safety. On July 21, the State Department announced details of an evacuation plan called Operation Allies Refuge. Currently, only those who have received COM approval will be relocated. We spoke to Romal after the news came out. For now, the vast majority of SIV candidates, including Romal, are stranded in Afghanistan until their case progresses. The State Department has acknowledged that the SIV approval process is slow, but says applicants must go through a thorough vetting process. Senior US military officials say that after the departure of US troops, a complete takeover by the Taliban is possible.
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