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Thursday, February 16, 2017

Nonprofit helps military translators resettle in the U.S.

A welcoming party at the airport. [No One Left Behind]
Two refugee families from Afghanistan moved into furnished apartments in Alexandria this weekend with support from an organization called No One Left Behind (NOLB).

They are among the thousands of people helped by the organization, which specializes in resettling Iraqis and Afghans who worked as translators or in other capacities for the U.S. military, aid organizations, or American contractors.

Yasser Razawy arrived at Dulles Airport on Jan. 29, two days after President Trump issued a travel ban barring people from seven countries and refugees from anywhere.

He had been working for the U.S. Agency for International Development in Taliban-controlled areas to support American interests and the Afghan government, says Mica Varga, NOLB’s director of resettlement operations.

A welcoming committee met Razawy, his wife, and their daughters, age 2 and 4, at Dulles, along with people from other groups, including the Dulles Justice Coalition and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Even though Afghanistan is not one of the seven countries, it’s been a chaotic situation since the travel ban and people who should have been easily admitted have faced problems, Varga said. If the volunteers hadn’t been at the airport to pick up Rawazy family, they could have been sent back or ended up being homeless. [While a federal judge lifted the travel ban, the situation remains uncertain.]

A couple of days later, Yasser’s brother, Kahir Rawazy arrived at Dulles with his wife, a five-year-old daughter, and 3-year-old son.

NOLB put up the families in a hotel in Springfield while they collected donations and secured housing for them. The group used the Mason Government Center as a collection point for household goods, while donors provided money for the first month’s rent, security deposit, and groceries.

A week later, NOLB moved both families into the same apartment complex in Alexandria. The organization won’t identify the address. since it received hateful, anti-Muslim emails, even though the group helps people who risked their lives to support the U.S. military.

NOLB works with a small group of landlords that agrees to take in tenants who don’t have a job or Social Security number and can offer apartments that are safe and clean. In the past two weeks, NOLB has helped 12 families resettle, mostly in the City of Alexandria, Woodbridge, Va., and Hyattsville, Md.

NOLB was founded in 2013 by Matt Zeller, a former Army captain in Afghanistan. In 2008, two Taliban fighters were about to shoot him, when Zeller’s translator, Janis Shinwari, killed his attackers, saving Zeller’s life.

Shinwari served the U.S. military for eight years, and despite promises by the Army to help translators relocate, it took Zeller more than three years to get Shinwari and his family out of Taliban-controlled areas. And once Shinwari was able to receive a “special immigrant visa” (SIV) and come to America, he got zero support from the U.S. government.

When Shinwari was finally admitted the U.S., with his wife and two children, they were only allowed to bring a few carry-ons. By then, Zeller had raised $35,000 to help the family resettle but Shinwari didn’t want to accept a handout, so the two of them put the funds toward helping other immigrants who had worked for the U.S.

Since then, NOLB has helped resettle about 4,000 individuals, including 800 in the D.C. area just in the past year.

People like Shinwari fall through the cracks – they are considered neither refugees nor veterans even though they wore U.S. military uniforms – so it’s difficult for them to relocate here unless they can get an SIV, which is like a “temporary green card,” Varga said.

NOLB helps former translators and others who work for the U.S. get SIVs and apply for Social Security numbers. That allows them to work, but they still face discrimination from potential employers.

Nevertheless, Varga says, one former interpreter is managing a UPS store in Northern Virginia. Other immigrants helped by NOLB are working in security, selling cars, doing data entry, or working in administration or as auto mechanics.

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