Afghans wait in long lines for hours to try to withdraw money, in front of a Bank in Kabul, Afghanistan

‘They’re depending on us’: Afghan interpreter scrambles to help evacuate colleagues in Afghanistan

Former Afghan interpreter and translator Zia Ghafoori is still working around the clock to help as many people as possible to evacuate — before it’s too late.

The World

As evacuations dwindled in Kabul, the reality of being left behind is sinking in for many people in Afghanistan.

After a 20-year war, US and NATO forces were set to withdraw from the country on Aug. 31. However, the US has announced that the last military flight has taken off from Kabul airport. 

About 6,000 Americans have been evacuated. 

US officials pledged to ensure safe passage for any American citizen or legal permanent resident after Tuesday, as well as for “those Afghans who helped us.” But untold numbers of vulnerable Afghans, fearful of a return to the brutality of pre-2001 Taliban rule, are likely to be left behind.

Related: Women’s shelters in Afghanistan face an uncertain future

Former Afghan interpreter and translator for the US military, Zia Ghafoori, is still working around the clock to help as many people as possible avoid that scenario. Ghafoori is now in the US and has been helping to organize evacuation flights for translators who also worked with the US in Afghanistan. 

He joined The World’s host Marco Werman to discuss his efforts to get Afghan translators and green card holders out of Afghanistan. 

Related: Afghan families are being rapidly resettled in the US. But adjusting to their new lives will take years.

Marco Werman: Zia, what can you tell us about the efforts you’ve undertaken so far to help Afghans who’ve worked for the US to escape the Taliban?
Zia Ghafoori: Definitely, we are working to get all those guys that are in the middle of nowhere right now, especially our US citizens and our green cardholders and those SIVs [Special Immigration Visas] that already got their approval and documents are completed. But they all live in the middle of nowhere in the kill zone.
So, just basically, are there any flights left for Afghans who have worked or do work for the US, or is the airlift essentially over for everyone but US service members and personnel?
Not right now. The airport is locked down, so no one can get entry [into] the airport. So, that was the only hope these people had, these SIVS and US citizens and green card holders had. But now, the door is shut and nobody is opening the door, but other than that, everybody is looking for a place to hide.
So, you talked just a moment ago about these Afghans being in the middle of nowhere. I assume that’s not in Kabul. So, how do you get those people from the middle of nowhere to the airport?
So, what I mean by the middle of nowhere is that they are now in Kabul, but there is no one who could help them to get them out of there. So, all around them there’s the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Every minute, they are in danger, like anything [could] happen to them. They [could] get killed in the middle of the street, and nobody will ask the question of why this interpreter or SIV[-holder] got killed.
Walk us then through the challenges of, say, getting one person from that space in Kabul City Center to the airport and getting them off the ground.
So, it is very hard. You know, all around Kabul, there are Taliban checkpoints, and those guys [who] are there in Kabul city, it is hard to get hold of them. But still, we are trying our best from every angle to get hold of them and get them ready if we [are] able to do something for them.
When you say get hold of them, you mean it’s just literally difficult to get a phone call placed?
Yes, there is no good signal in Kabul city right now, their phones are [being tracked by] the Taliban and al-Qaeda. They [even] cannot send emails or text messages through their phones [so] they don’t get compromised and get captured by the Taliban. Every second, we need to have communication with them, because we don’t want to lose them, and we want to show [them] the direction [of] which way they need to go. They are depending on us, so let’s see what will happen.
Have you been looking at trying to arrange overland routes? Is that even feasible?
We try to get them into specific busses, any kind of vehicles or taxis. But we are trying to collect all these guys from around the city, but I don’t think it’s a good idea, because all those guys will be compromised and everybody will know, like, three or four or 10 busses are going to the airport or somewhere that we are giving the directions [for]. Everybody will find out these families are leaving, so they could find out easily.
What are your hopes for those people now landing in other countries? What do you hope that they’ll make of this new life?
With their children, with their whole families, they left the country and they left whatever they had. They need a place to live. They need people to support them, to get them clothes, groceries, until we settle them to get them a job.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

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