Translation and Interpreting in 150+ Languages
Sardar Khan, who worked for U.S. forces in Afghanistan as a translator.
‘Terp Headshot: On a Visa or on a Stick
February 21, 2014 - By: - In: In the News / Awards, Language - Comments Off on ‘Terp Headshot: On a Visa or on a Stick

“If the bad guys arrest you, there’s no question that they will behead you,” says Shafiq Naziri, U.S. special forces translator in Afghanistan since 2006. “They will put your head on a stick on the side of the street.”

Linguists and their families are a favorite target of Taliban fighters, since translators and interpreters have been critical to the US war effort in Afghanistan. Translators and interpreters are also essential to the more peaceful missions of the US State Department, the US Agency for International Development and US-supported NGOs.

B. P. Tobia of PBS reports: “Working for the U.S. means they are also targets. Taliban checkpoints are often set up expressly for the purpose of catching men like Khan. Translators casually swap stories of Afghan employees of the U.S military who have had limbs or heads cut off by insurgents.”

Naziri is just one of thousands of Afghan linguist who have been waiting years for promised visas from the US government to escape Taliban violence in Afghanistan. Although Congress authorized up to 1500 visas a year, the State Department has moved with glacial slowness.  It took State two years to even come up with the rules to start admitting Afghans.

State’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan Jarrett Blanc blames some of the delay on applicants themselves. “A lot of those (applicants), not quite half of them, control their own timing.” Blanc says. “So they’ve started the application, or perhaps they’ve gotten past the first step, but they need to finish their own paperwork before we can take the next step with them.”

That’s bureaucratastic to the interpreters who have to actually complete the process, which critics claim is opaque, complex and dangerously slow.

Sadar Khan, U.S. Army translator, has been filling out those forms since 2012. “I am living in a village where everybody knows me … who I am, who I am working for, where my house is, these things,” Khan told PBS. “They are just waiting for a small chance, like if the security gets a little bit worse. I am really concerned about my babies especially.”

He’s been waiting for an answer since he interviewed in early 2013. Khan says the process has wiped him out, emotionally and financially. “We did this much paperwork to…get an interview scheduled,” he said, “It cost me around $5,000 U.S. that I spent for a better future.” Khan is still visa-less.

“It has been a disastrous program,” said one former USAID official.” It’s embarrassing.”

But the State Department promises big improvements, and in the last five months has issued close to 400 visas. With US withdrawal fast approaching, there is a long way to go even though Blanc claims the backlo is “entirely clear.” Clip follows.


As chairman of the Red T, I’m supporting an organization committed to the protection of translators and interpreters worldwide. It’s taken the efforts of thousands of concerned individuals and organizations to raise the profile of these forgotten allies and focus congressional scrutiny on the failure of this program. Please check out our site or a “like” on our Facebook page to learn what we and others are doing to safeguard all  translators and interpreters as a global, impartial, and protected community.





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