Lost in translation: Afghan interpreters fear for future after US troops’ exit

Lost in translation: Afghan interpreters fear for future after US troops’ exit
An Afghan woman walks past the damaged windows of house after a suicide bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan April 21, 2021. (REUTERS)
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Updated 26 April 2021

Lost in translation: Afghan interpreters fear for future after US troops’ exit

Lost in translation: Afghan interpreters fear for future after US troops’ exit
  • With Washington’s planned departure from Afghanistan on Sept. 11, dozens fear the Taliban will murder them once forces leave

KABUL: It was in late 2013 when Ahmad Fatah says he openly worked as a translator for the US military and often accompanied the troops during patrols and raids on suspected Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan’s eastern Logar province.

Several residents of Logar, Fatah’s birthplace, knew about his occupation too when he, along with thousands of other Afghan interpreters, assisted and protected American troops during their fight against the Taliban for decades after the September 11, 2001 attacks, treating their safety as an afterthought and living in fear of the insurgent group who consider them traitors or collaborators.

Washington was heavily reliant on the language skills and cultural knowledge of local translators — with many well-versed in English, Dari and Pashtu — to interpret conversations between US forces and the Taliban.

Today, Fatah, whose name has been changed for his own protection, lives in Kabul since moving there in mid-2014 at the age of 24, after receiving a death threat for “betraying the country and Islam by working with US invaders.”

Fatah says soon after receiving that phone call he informed his former employers at the US military in Afghanistan of the warning in the hope of being granted a Special Immigration Visa (SIV) and migrate to America.

He reached a dead end there too.

“I was told that I did not fit the criteria as the SIVs are given to those who have served for at least two years, but they promised to help me,” Fatah told Arab News at a park in Kabul on Saturday where he, along with several other translators, had gathered to protest against the lack of protection offered to them by the US and other countries employing their services during the war.

The military is not giving convincing answers to some of the translators.

Javid Mahmoudi

His fears have increased since the announcement of a planned exit of US troops from Afghanistan on Sept. 11, with Fatah and dozens of Afghan interpreters afraid of being murdered by the Taliban once the forces leave.

Since 2014, No One Left Behind, a nonprofit organization, has cataloged more than 300 cases in which the Taliban and other terrorist groups have killed interpreters or family members — many of whom were waiting for visas to the US — while a 2014 report by International Refugee Assistance Project, a nonprofit based in New York City, estimated that an Afghan interpreter was being killed every 36 hours.

Belonging to various regions of Afghanistan, the protesters demanded that they be resettled in the US through SIVs.

According to the US State Department, nearly 13,000 SIVs have been granted to Afghan nationals since 2014. However, it offers little solace for 19,000 Afghans who are still waiting for the State Department to decide their fate.

“The Americans are leaving, but what about us? What are they doing about our fate? We risked our lives for working with them,” Fatah said.

Esmatullah Faizi, from eastern Nangarhar province, said that he had applied for an SIV in 2018 but had yet to hear back from authorities on its progress.

“They (US officials) keep saying your case is under review, and we will inform you. I do not know what will happen; people (translators) are afraid because America has set September 11th as its last drawdown period,” he said.

Javid Mahmoudi, another translator from Parwan, north of Kabul, said that he was in touch with other interpreters in Afghanistan “who could not make it to the protest, but were afraid about their future.”

“The military is not giving convincing answers to some of the translators,” he told Arab News.

Participants of the protest said that they would begin a sit-in outside the US embassy in Kabul soon because officials were “not responding to their calls,” and they had no access to them to “to talk about our fears and our future.”

When contacted by Arab News for a comment, the State Department said that it takes its role in managing the SIV program very “seriously.”

“We are engaged at the highest levels to ensure we are serving SIV applicants as promptly as possible,” a US embassy foreign officer, who requested anonymity, said.

“Everyone involved in the Special Immigrant Visa process, whether in Washington or at our embassy in Kabul, is aware of the threats our Afghan colleagues face,” he said, adding that the State Department had “prioritized the Afghan SIV program by identifying program needs and directing additional resources toward two stages of the Afghan SIV process.”

Citing US State Department spokeswoman Ned Price, the official said that Washington has also increased “resources to the SIV program” and taken “steps to prioritize applications from interpreters and translators.”

“We have given extra consideration to those who have helped in combat operations. This will remain a priority going forward,” he said.

Aimed at supporting Afghans and Iraqis who came under threat for their work with the US military and other entities, the SIV program involves a lengthy application process with an average waiting time of three years.

It has faced delays since last year due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Meanwhile, addressing the plight of the Afghan interpreters, the International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP), a US-based legal and advocacy organization that researched SIVs in Afghanistan and Iraq, said: “For more than a decade . . . the SIV programs have provided a pathway to safety for Iraqis and Afghans whose service . . . has exposed them and their families to threats, harm, and death.”

“Tens of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans have been safely resettled to the United States . . . The process, however, has not been smooth,” it said on its website.

“Over the years, the SIV programs have been beset by technical, practical, and political obstacles and inefficiencies that have hampered their operation and threatened the promise that the US government made to these allies for their service.”


British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
Updated 10 May 2021

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma

British Muslim ‘grateful’ after baby born during coma
  • Marriam Ahmad told she might not wake up after contracting COVID-19
  • She woke up naturally less than a day after giving birth

LONDON: A British Muslim woman said she is “grateful” for safely having a baby after she was placed in a coma due to complications from contracting COVID-19, describing it as a “miracle.”

Marriam Ahmad, 27, from the Welsh city of Newport, went into hospital in January after testing positive for the disease. 

Ahmad, who was 29 weeks pregnant at the time and suffers from asthma, did not expect to be in hospital long, but her condition deteriorated quickly.

“All of a sudden, my oxygen mask was on a much higher setting — I couldn’t hear properly,” she told the BBC. “It was very loud. I had someone washing my face, looking after me. I was very weak.”

As her condition worsened, she was told that her baby would have to be delivered prematurely by Caesarean section. A few hours later, a decision was made to place her in an induced coma.

She was warned that her baby might not be strong enough to survive, and that she might not wake up from the coma.

“It just happened so quickly. It was within about five minutes, they told me ‘you’re going on a ventilator, you’re having a c-section, the baby’s going to come out, you’ll be unconscious, you might not make it. Say goodbye’,” Ahmad said.

“I facetimed my parents and I was crying. It was only like a two-minute phone call — my mum was like ‘what are you talking about?’ I was lonely and I was scared. I didn’t even speak to my husband or my son.”

Her husband, who was looking after their 1-year-old son Yusuf, was called by a doctor to inform him of developments. Their baby was born on Jan. 18, 2021, weighing just 1.17 kg.

Surprisingly, Ahmad woke from her coma naturally less than a day later — but was unable to see her baby due to their conditions and COVID-19 restrictions. For the next few days, nurses brought Ahmad photos and videos of her baby.

“I had no idea what happened. I woke up — obviously I could see there was nothing in my stomach anymore and I was in a lot of pain,” she said, adding that staff members became deeply invested in her baby’s wellbeing. 

Ahmad and her husband decided to name their daughter Khadija. “In the Islamic faith, Khadija is a very strong, independent woman,” she said.

“From my point of view, my Khadija was very strong. She didn’t have issues, for someone being preterm at 29 weeks. They were telling me all the complications. She didn’t have any of those. It was a miracle.”

Khadija spent eight weeks in a neonatal intensive care unit before she was allowed home. After three and a half months, she weighed nearly 4 kg.

“I am just so grateful — that she’s still alive, that I am still alive,” Ahmad said. “Even though it was such a horrific, traumatic experience, I just found myself being even more grateful for the little things. Just spending time with family.”


UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans
Updated 10 May 2021

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans

UK to introduce checks to prevent terrorists hiring vans
  • ‘Shocking’ that additional checks took so long, expert tells Arab News
  • Vehicles used to target bystanders in 2017 London attacks

LONDON: Van owners in Britain will be told to carry out routine checks on people hiring their trucks to prevent vehicle-based terror attacks. 

The guidance, brought in by the British Standards Institution, will expect owners to check references and employment history for evidence of criminal links. 

Vehicles will also be expected to be checked regularly to spot any signs of tampering in a way that could be evidence of preparation for criminal or terrorist acts.

European cities endured multiple incidents of terrorists using vehicles to run over innocent bystanders, such as the Westminster Bridge and London Bridge attacks in March and June 2017, respectively.

The previous summer, a truck rammed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the French city of Nice. Eighty-six people were killed and hundreds more injured.

Architectural changes have been made to reduce the risk of attacks, with bollards and barriers put in place on bridges and major pedestrian areas in Britain. 

Officials are also aiming to reduce the risk of trucks being used for human trafficking by organized crime gangs.

“This is a long-awaited implementation of recommendations that came out from lessons learned from the Nice attack in 2016, and the London Bridge and Westminster attacks of 2017, recognizing the ease with which terrorists had access to vehicles and the devastating impact they could have. The London Bridge attackers had tried and failed to source a larger vehicle,” former senior British military intelligence officer Philip Ingram told Arab News.

“Daesh and Al-Qaeda channels on encrypted platforms such as Telegram actively encourage the procurement and use of large vehicles for terror purposes,” he added.

“In 2017, Rumiyah, a terror magazine aimed at English-language speakers, talked of the use of vehicles, including trucks, as weapons. It’s shocking that it has taken almost four years to bring in additional checks for hiring larger vehicles.”

Transport Minister Robert Courts said the guidelines will “go a long way to help us in our fight against terrorism and organized crime.”

He added: “Terror attacks and organized crime involving commercial vehicles have had tragic and devastating effects in recent years, with every life lost leaving an unimaginable void in the lives of so many.”


India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
Updated 10 May 2021

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount

India’s COVID-19 cases dip from peak, calls for shutdown mount
  • The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks

NEW DELHI/BENGALURU: Calls grew for India to impose a nationwide lockdown as new coronavirus cases and deaths held close to record highs on Monday, increasing pressure on the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The 366,161 new infections and 3,754 deaths reported by the health ministry were off a little from recent peaks, taking India’s tally to 22.66 million with 246,116 deaths.
As many hospitals grapple with an acute shortage of oxygen and beds while morgues and crematoriums overflow, experts have said India’s actual figures could be far higher than reported.
Sunday’s 1.47 million tests for COVID-19 were this month’s lowest yet, data from the state-run Indian Council of Medical Research showed. The figure compared with a daily average of 1.7 million for the first eight days of May.
The number of positive results from the tests was not immediately clear, however.
Many states have imposed strict lockdowns over the last month while others have placed curbs on movement and shut cinemas, restaurants, pubs and shopping malls.
But pressure is mounting on Modi to announce a nationwide lockdown as he did during the first wave of infections last year.
He is battling criticism for allowing huge gatherings at a religious festival and holding large election rallies during the past two months even as cases surged.
“A failure of governance of epic and historic proportions,” Vipin Narang, a political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the United States, said on Twitter.
On Sunday, top White House coronavirus adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci said he had advised Indian authorities they needed to shut down.
“You’ve got to shut down,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week” television show. “I believe several of the Indian states have already done that, but you need to break the chain of transmission. And one of the ways to do that is to shut down.”
The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has also called for a “complete, well-planned, pre-announced” lockdown.
New Delhi, the capital, entered a fourth week of lockdown, with tougher curbs such as the shutdown of the suburban rail network, while residents scrambled for scarce hospital beds and oxygen supplies.
“This is not the time to be lenient,” Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Sunday.
“This phase is so tough, this wave is so dangerous, so many people are dying...the priority at this hour is to save lives,” he said in a televised address.
Late on Sunday, the northern state of Uttarakhand said it would impose curfew from Tuesday until May 18, just days after mass religious gatherings held in the state became virus super spreading events.
Shops selling fruits, vegetables and dairy items will stay open for some hours in the morning, while malls, gyms, theaters, bars and liquor shops are among the enterprises that will be shut, the government said.
Organizers of the popular and lucrative Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament conceded the remaining games will have to be played overseas after they suspended the contest over the virus this month.
Global support, in the form of oxygen cylinders and concentrators, ventilators and other medical gear, has poured in.
On Monday, US company Eli Lilly and Co. said it signed licensing deals with Indian drugmakers, such as Cipla Ltd., Lupin and Sun Pharma to make and sell its arthritis drug baricitinib for the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
India’s drug regulator has approved the drug for restricted emergency use in combination with remdesivir for hospitalized adult sufferers in need of supplemental oxygen.
By Sunday, the world’s largest vaccine-producing nation had fully vaccinated just over 34.3 million, or only 2.5 percent, of its population of about 1.35 billion, government data shows.


Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
Updated 10 May 2021

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown

Britain set to ease COVID-19 lockdown
  • Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality

LONDON: Britain on Monday was set to announce a further easing of its coronavirus lockdown, joining several European nations in gradually reopening their economies, but India remained in the grip of a devastating outbreak.
Rapid vaccination programs have allowed a number of wealthy nations to start taking steps toward normality, but the virus is still surging in many countries and concerns are growing about global vaccine inequality.
The pandemic has claimed close to 3.3 million lives worldwide and Britain has the highest death toll in Europe, but its successful vaccination program has allowed the authorities to start relaxing curbs.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was due to announce the latest measures – effective May 17 – in a press conference on Monday, including the reopening of indoor seating in pubs and restaurants.
When asked during a BBC interview Sunday if hugging would be allowed, senior minister Michael Gove said: “Without prejudice to a broader review of social distancing... friendly contact, intimate contact between friends and family is something that we want to see restored.”
Cinemas are also expected to reopen, as well as some large indoor venues after the government held several pilot events – including a rock concert – to test safety measures.
This follows Spain’s lifting of a state of emergency in place since October, allowing people to travel between regions.
“It’s like New Year’s,” said 28-year-old Oriol Corbella in Barcelona, where the end of the curfew was met with shouts, applause and music.
In Germany, people fully vaccinated against COVID-19 were exempt from many restrictions from Sunday after the government passed new legislation.
And Cyprus on Monday will exit a third partial lockdown with a new coronavirus “safety pass” system to allow people to move freely.


Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
Updated 10 May 2021

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday

Afghanistan Taliban plan three-day cease-fire for Eid holiday
  • The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday
  • The Afghan government has not yet responded to the Taliban announcement

KABUL: Afghanistan’s Taliban Monday announced a three-day cease-fire for the Eid-Al-Fitr holiday this week marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The cease-fire would begin on either Wednesday or Thursday. The Muslim calendar follows lunar cycles and the Eid holiday depends on the sighting of the new moon.
Justs hours after the pending cease-fire was announced, a bus in southern Zabul province struck a roadside mine killing 11 people, said Interior Ministry spokesman Tariq Aeian. At least 24 more people on the bus were injured. Improvised explosive devices litter the countryside and have been used extensively by the Taliban.
Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Taliban fighters have been ordered to stop all offensives, “to provide a peaceful and secure atmosphere to our compatriots … so that they may celebrate this joyous occasion with a greater peace of mind.”
The cease-fire announcement comes amid heightened violence in the country and follows a brutal attack on a girls’ school on Saturday that killed as many 60 people, most of them students between 11-15 years old. The death toll from the three explosions continues to climb.
The Taliban denied any responsibility and condemned the attack, which occurred in the mostly Shiite neighborhood of Dasht-e-Barchi in the west of the capital.
Attacks in the area are most often claimed by the Afghan Islamic State affiliate, but no group yet has claimed the attack on the school.
The cease-fire announcement also comes as the US and NATO are withdrawing the last of their military forces. The final 2,500-3,500 American soldiers and roughly 7,000 allied NATO forces will leave by Sept. 11 at the latest.
The Afghan government has not yet responded to the cease-fire announcement.