This Afghan SIV interpreter had my back in a way I thought only an American soldier would | World Refugee Day 2018

Matt Zeller and SIV Janis Shinwari
Matt Zeller (left) and SIV Janis Shinwari

Washington, DC – Matt Zeller honors his Afghan SIV interpreter, Janis Shinwari, in honor of World Refugee Day 2018

I should have died on April 28, 2008. Instead, I was able to return to my family and beautiful baby girl because my Afghan interpreter, Janis Shinwari, killed two Taliban fighters who were about to shoot me.

My experience is not unique. Our Afghan and Iraqi interpreters have saved thousands of American lives. They should be treated as heroes.

Janis faithfully served America in Afghanistan for eight years and saved countless American lives. Yet, despite promises the U.S. Military made to every local interpreter supporting our operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, it took me more than three years to get Janis a Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) and his family away from the Taliban fighters hunting them. Janis was lucky. Too often, government red-tape results in our interpreters being left behind and in harm’s way. And for those fortunate enough to receive an SIV to come to America, like Janis? Once here, they and their families are largely left to fend for themselves.

In November 2013, Janis and I started No One Left Behind with one mission: to ensure America treats our interpreters as the heroes and veterans they are. We then started to cut through the bureaucracy, help endangered interpreters and their families immigrate to the United States through our legal SIV program and establish the services and support they need when they arrive.

Headquartered in Washington, DC, we fund resettlement activities through entirely volunteer staffs in the greater DC area and in San Francisco, Upstate NY, Boston, and Chicago. We are focused exclusively on serving SIV recipients and their families. These men and women have served honorably alongside US forces in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan and went through extensive national security screening by the Department of State before arriving in the United States.

Watch Matt talk about what he does with No One Left Behind

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World Refugee Day 2018

This month, to celebrate World Refugee Day on June 20, US-born Americans across the United States honor newcomer Americans with a story from their state – a story of a refugee, asylee, or immigrant they admire. From soldiers to politicians, employers to students, social workers to business people – everyday Americans tell their stories to celebrate the goodness and the courage of the newcomers who make the United States a better place.

Every day in the month of June, the Refugee Center Online will publish a new story from a different state. Check back for new stories each day:

Learn more about World Refugee Day. All across the country, there will be events celebrating World Refugee Day. Visit this map to find an event in your community.

About Matt Zeller
Matt Zeller decided to join the US military a few weeks after 9/11. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2008 and received a Purple Heart and Army Commendation Medal. He is the co-founder of No One Left Behind, now in its fifth year. They have helped more than 5,000 Afghan and Iraqi combat interpreters and their families resettle safely and build lives in the United States.