Group ‘hopeful’ Afghan interpreter who served U.S. troops will get visa

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GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — An advocacy group that helps Afghan allies obtain special visas says it’s “hopeful” a Grand Haven veteran will get his wish.

U.S. Army 1st Sgt. Gerald Keen and his wife, Lynnette, are working to help an Afghan interpreter and his family obtain visas to get to America and safety.

The Taliban have threatened to kill the young man because he worked with U.S. troops.

As America prepares to withdraw from Afghanistan, Afghan nationals who helped us on the ground face more danger than ever. If you want to support the fight to save Afghan civilians who served and protected U.S. troops, The Association of Wartime Allies urges you to take the steps outlined on its website.

Keen met the 28-year-old interpreter when they lived and worked on the same Army base in Afghanistan.

“We went through some pretty hard times with the Taliban,” Keen explained. “The camaraderie that we built and the trust that we built. I mean, I trusted him with my life at that time and I kind of took him under my wing.”

Since Keen’s return from Afghanistan in October 2016, he and his wife have kept in touch with the interpreter and his family through weekly video chats online.

“He’s a young, smart kid. He’s just as much a soldier as I am because he helped the Americans and the coalition through the worst times of the war,” he said

In addition to advocating for the interpreter in the visa process, the Keens are also helping to cover some of the family’s expenses including private school tuition for the interpreter’s daughter, the only educational option for girls in Afghanistan.

The Keens set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for expenses related to the visa process, as well as airfare for the Afghan family’s flight to the United States.

An advocacy group that works with Afghan visa applicants confirmed the interpreter is nearing the final stage of the visa application process.

“I am hopeful,” wrote Kim Staffieri, founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, which runs a private Facebook group dedicated to helping applicants navigate the complicated visa process.  

“(He) has great support here stateside and at this time, we are seeing the U.S. Embassy (in Kabul) process a high number of cases … They are working faster and harder than I’ve ever seen. These are good signs.”

The Special Immigrant Visa program has come under fire because — on average — our Afghan allies were waiting four years to get through the process.

Under federal law, it’s supposed to take no more than nine months for the U.S. to process visa applications from wartime allies who worked for U.S. troops.

A refugee assistance group is urging “large-scale evacuations” of Afghan civilians who served U.S. troops and face “imminent risk” of violent retaliation by the Taliban.  

“The imminent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan will leave many Afghan civilians at risk of targeted attacks from the Taliban,” wrote the International Refugee Assistance Project in its recommendations to the U.S. government.

“The existing Afghan (Special Immigrant Visa program) is insufficient to protect these Afghans over the coming months … (It’s) plagued by delays, backlogs … and excludes many Afghans who cannot meet the program’s extensive requirements.”

Among other remedies, IRAP is recommending the evacuation of Afghan allies to safe harbors, much like the U.S. did for Vietnamese allies in 1975 and Iraqi Kurds in 1996.

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