Guam eyed as evacuation site for thousands of Afghanistan interpreters

Photo shows an aerial view of the Orote Point refugee camp circa 1975. Guam has hosted refugees from previous wars and is being eyed to host refugees again, this time from Afghanistan. (US Navy photo)

As the U.S. military winds up its operations in Afghanistan, Afghans who helped American troops, primarily interpreters, are in danger of being stuck in the country and face repercussions from the Taliban and other anti-American elements.

Usually, those who help the US military in war are given special visas for them to relocate to the United States. But with less than four months before the US withdraws from Afghanistan as ordered by President Biden, such special visa arrangements may not be possible.

Matthew Zeller, a co-founder of No One Left Behind, which is an organization that helps interpreters who have assisted the US, said relocating the interpreters to Guam may be the best option because it is an American territory, thereby eliminating the need to negotiate with other nations.

There has been precedent for this as the US had previously sent refugees to Guam from the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War.

“We’re out of options. The time to save these people with the [Special Immigrant Visa] program is the 13 years it’s existed. We’re out of time. It’s Guam or bust,” Zeller told Defense One, a US defense and national security website.

Defense One’s Jacqueline Feldscher also reports that Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., agreed Guam is an “obvious” option because it’s been used to evacuate refugees of past wars, but Moulton said he’s also open to other options.

“We need to evacuate our Afghan allies and friends before they are slaughtered in the wake of our departure,” Moulton told Defense One.

Christopher Purdy, a project manager at Veterans for American Ideals, also said that even if the State Department increased the number of available visas and surged staff to process applications, it would not be enough to take care of every translator and their family in the short time remaining before America completely withdraws.

“The only solution at this point is an evacuation of every American-affiliated Afghan…to an American territory where they can be safely, securely, and efficiently processed for visas,” Purdy told Defense One.

Zeller told Defense One that there are about 18,000 translators and interpreters who applied to the special visa program are currently awaiting approval and on average, translators bring three people with them to America, typically a spouse and two children.

That means there are likely more than 70,000 people waiting on a decision who “are going to be murdered if we don’t get them out of Afghanistan right now,” Zeller said.