U.S. News


Interpreter Who Helped The U.S. In Afghanistan Is Now Helping Refugees

Elyas Ibrahimi's new role at a New Jersey military base has him helping fellow refugees and notifying the military of threats.
Posted at 9:18 PM, Oct 07, 2021

Elyas Ibrahimi risked his life to interpret for the U.S. military in Afghanistan. Now, 7,000 miles away, he's interpreting for the military again — volunteering as a refugee at Fort Dix Army base in New Jersey.

"The first day I came here, I told the security guys I can work here as an interpreter and I don't need anything," Ibrahimi said. "I just want to help you guys."

He has taken it upon himself to alert the military to potential security threats, like refugees he thinks may have slipped past the initial vetting process.

"A lot of people here don't even have paperwork," he said. "They just came here with one I.D. So these kind of people could be a little risky. They could be anything."

However, federal officials insist vetting to get on the base is rigorous, with intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism officers conducting biometric and biographic screenings that are run through databases.

That prevents flagged Afghans at military bases overseas from entering the country. But a Homeland Security spokesperson tells us in "rare" cases, Afghans have landed at U.S. airports and have been denied entry by Customs and Border Protection out of additional security concerns. At least one country — the United Kingdom — found an evacuee who was on their no-fly watch list.

Meanwhile, Afghans who couldn't escape are suffering. Ibrahimi says the Taliban hunted down and killed his cousin, an intelligence officer for the National Directorate of Security.

For Afghans who made it to the U.S., the base of brick and concrete offers a new, albeit slow, beginning. It's divided into three so-called villages, with a beauty salon run by Afghan women, basketball courts, and streets that children cover with chalk.

Ibrahimi lives in a room with bunk beds. Others are housed in large tents to accommodate the more than 9,000 on the base.

Ibrahimi's plan is to move his family out West to start a new life.

"I just want to continue my education," he said. "I have to study. And after that, I have to get a job to support myself."