As the U.S. exists in Afghanistan after 20 years of war, and the Taliban has taken over the country, people around the world are scrambling to rescue loved ones who are still at home. At a rally in support of the people of Afghanistan at Civic Plaza on Saturday, The Paper. met with Mohammed Ismail, an Afghan refugee living in Albuquerque. Well-known tv journalist Soledad O’Brien also spoke with Ismail a few days prior in Albuquerque as part of a profile of Afghan refugees and their stories of survival for her show “Matter of Fact.” Her team reached out to The Paper. as part of a collaboration with local media.
The Paper. spoke with Ismail about his work and life in Afghanistan before fleeing to the U.S. This story is personal to him along with several other Afghani people living here in Albuquerque. He is grieving as the world watches the situation in his home country as the Taliban have taken over. He is also extremely concerned for his family and is working to get them out of Afghanistan.
The Paper.: What can you tell me about your life and work in Afghanistan?
I was a veteran interpreter and I have worked with the U.S. forces for the past 3 ½ years. Before that, I worked with the U.S. forces for over a decade as a vendor selling crafts and jewelry on military bases. I started in 2003 when I was 13 years old and ended that position in 2010. After that is when I became an interpreter with U.S forces in 2010.
What were Special Visa Requirements for Afghans in 2010?
SIV requirements in 2010 were for 12 months given on the basis that I would continue to work with U.S. forces and apply for my visa. I applied after my 12-month service and my case was in process for 2 ½ years. At the time when I was waiting for my visa to be processed, I was an interpreter for high Afghani government officials, the U.S. Embassy and numerous other officials as a mentor. I was working in a detention facility in the Parwan province of Afghanistan.
Did you have direct interaction with the Taliban?
I had direct interactions with the Taliban at the detention facility because they were prisoners. As the head interpreter for the mentor program for the Afghan National Army, I was the interpreter for the leading Afghan general at the facility. My responsibility was communicating with the Afghan commanders and participating in daily briefings and translating documents. I was also responsible for releasing Taliban who were found not guilty after trials. With the Afghan commander, I would go to those who were being released in other provinces and release those people because they were not found guilty. I was doing everything from communication to assisting with things for both the generals and the Taliban.
Why are the Taliban focus now going after your family?
After my work at home with the U.S., the Taliban began going after my family directly, including my parents and my siblings. This caused us to have to flee the country in 2016 and we resettled in Albuquerque. Now in this new terrifying situation, my uncle and aunt have become a point of target in Afghanistan from Taliban forces. My aunt also worked as a vendor inside U.S. bases and has applied to be an individual performer of part of a group entering the U.S. (p2) visa and we are still waiting to hear back from the state department. We are very worried and terrified for them. When we talk to each other there is a sense of hopelessness and responsibility on my part for helping them get out. They are being targeted because they have worked with the U.S. government and because I myself was an interpreter and I was in direct contact with the Taliban. Although I have a big sense of pride that I have come a long way with my family there’s also a great sense of responsibility for my family currently in Afghanistan who I can not help and they are under house arrest with limited supplies and resources.
What is currently being done at the local and national level to help get your family out?
With SIV and P1 P2 visas I have personally reached out to our local city officials with a letter requesting support, providing my story and asking for the immediate evacuation of Afghan families in our state who have assisted the U.S. forces and the U.S. government. Also, we have to provide a list with an immediate family that need assistance like my aunt and uncle who are in extreme danger. We were sent applications and more documents to fill out requesting further details and information. Representative Melanie Stansbury’s office replied within minutes of receiving letters from me. Currently the level of involvement has reached national legislative levels as I have reached out to them and they have asked for the list of individuals. The community partners that I work with here include other refugee organizations that are supported directly by creating outreach to senators and representatives.
O’Brien’s profile of Ismail and other refugees in Albuquerque will air today (Sunday, Aug. 22) at 10 am on KOAT-TV. You can also watch episodes here.