No One Left Behind Kept America’s Promise

No One Left Behind Kept America’s Promise

by Mollie McGurk

If all the organizations supporting refugees and SIVs were doing their jobs properly like No One Left Behind things would be great … but unfortunately they are not.”

“When I was in Afghanistan waiting for my visa, I was so ambitious, so happy and so delighted to be rid of the tension,” says Ahmad Shad, an Afghan interpreter for U.S. forces for 5 years. “I was very optimistic that when I went to the U.S. I will have a good future, a good future for my kids, my family, that I would have a good job and a good life here.”

Upon arrival, it was clear that it was a trade-off for an entirely different kind of tension. “I was thinking when I came to the U.S. I would be more self-sufficient, I could do a lot of things. But it’s the opposite. We face a lot of problems.” Problems that are nothing short of paying for food and housing.

Like the vast majority of interpreters arriving from Iraq and Afghanistan, Ahmad and his family came to the U.S. with next to nothing, at the mercy of aid organizations ill-equipped to help. Even the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which has been slated to help in resettlement, had minimal resources to improve the daunting process. Still recovering from a gunshot wound he received in combat, Ahmad was unable to work when his family came to the country. Within the first few months, Ahmad’s family was already being threatened with an eviction notice. “I called maybe 50 numbers, 50 departments and organizations. Every number I called would give me another number. They all said ‘no, we can’t help, here’s another number.’”

The worse insult came when he appeared in court over an eviction notice. “I said, we come from a war zone country … from childhood till now we were in war. We came here to feel safe and live our lives. I served the U.S. military for almost 6 years.” The attorney’s response was nothing short of disrespectful. “He said, ‘we don’t care about what you did for the military or for the U.S., you live in an apartment, as simple as that, you have to pay your rent.’”  In an already dire situation, such a reaction comes as a shock. “We really put our lives on the line and then to arrive and hear such things? It was really unexpected.”

If it were not for No One Left Behind, Ahmad and his family would have been out of options and a place to live. With the help of his friend Ajmal, he was put in touch with Matt Zeller and the help he needed. For the first time in months, he called one number that didn’t redirect him. NOLB provided Ahmad’s family with the most basic aid that no one else could. Unlike every other resource that has promised support for these interpreters, Matt and NOLB stayed true to their word. “He said he’d help, and he did.”

The situation these interpreters find themselves in when they come to the U.S. is so traumatic that at times it’s hard for many not to question the choice. “You think that when you travel from that country to here it will be the happiest moment of your life. When you come here, you think the opposite,” Ahmad says. The mental, emotional and financial stress of beginning a new life in a foreign country with minimal means creates a pressure that no one, especially a veteran, should have to endure. “Back [in Afghanistan] when we spoke to U.S. troops they said when you go to the U.S. people will treat you well, you will be happy and glad that you served in the U.S. military. But when you come here it feels like nobody cares.”

Ahmad explained that if only more organizations were actively trying to help, it might not be so dire. Unfortunately, it’s not the case as both advocacy and tangible assistance are left to a very select few. “When you call these government agencies, you wait and wait for another ‘no,’” he says. “Organizations like NOLB should be supported, they should expand. They really do actually help people.”