Organizations in need of translators as Afghans settle in US

PHOENIX, Ariz.– – Organizations helping resettle Afghan refugees across the country say that as they take in more people over the next few weeks, there will likely be an increased demand for translators.

Some states are struggling to find enough translators while others say they have plenty and are even turning people away.

One volunteer who spoke with Fox News, and is remaining anonymous for her safety, has been a translator in Arizona since she moved from Afghanistan in 2017. She is fluent in English, Farsi, Urdu and Pashto. With the recent evacuations in Kabul, she says she has been interpreting phone calls almost daily.

“I used to work from 6:30 a.m. in the morning up to 9:30 p.m. at night I was on the phone,” she says. “I just wrote down my name with the organization and I told them whenever you need me.”

Watching the tragic situation unfold overseas, the interpreter is desperately trying to help as many people as possible, including her own family, which is hoping to escape Kabul soon.

“I’m crying almost every day. I’m calling them but most of the time the phone is not connecting and then I’m asking them ‘how are you?’ by texting them. Then after two or three hours when I get the reply back I get so happy that at least I’m [getting] their news that they’re right now fine, but they’re not doing good, but at least they’re fine.”

Over the next few weeks nearly 37,000 Afghan refugees will resettle in the United States. California will welcome the most at more than 5,200 people, while Alabama and Mississippi will only take 10. Four other states and Washington, D.C., aren’t taking any.

The Biden administration is hoping to help resettle up to 65,000 Afghans through October and another 30,000 through the next fiscal year.

Children of Afghan refugees play at the Liberty Village facility on Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey on September 5, 2021.
USAF/Cover Images/INSTARimages.com

Sahaba Initiative, a nonprofit in San Bernardino, California, says it is looking to hire for several interpreter positions.

“A case manager that speaks the language, understands the language, that’s skilled in the cultural nuances, is really key. But alongside that, which is really important, is our counselors and therapists and people that really understand how to address some of the mental health issues that also speak the language, understand the culture,” said Arbazz Nizami, president of the Sahaba Initiative.

The organization helps families with basics like food, clothing and hygiene items, as well as with housing and jobs. So far, they are assisting at least six families from Afghanistan.

“I think we’re at about six families now that we committed to taking care of as a sponsor. So we’re waiting for those families to come into the U.S.,” said Nizami. “We were told within a few weeks, so we’re just waiting on them to come. We know the names of the families, we know how many, so we are committed to them and once they’re here, we’re going to pick them up from the airport, provide them with the housing and then take care of them from A to Z.”

In Arizona, several refugee organizations tell Fox News that they’ve had an outpouring of support from the local community, including several people volunteering to help translate.

“So certainly we are looking for people who would be interested but at this point because of the overwhelming response that we’ve had, you can just sign up and then we would reach out to you,” said Connie Phillips, president and CEO of the Lutheran Social Services of the Southwest.

“This is one of those times when we really are coming together as a country, people really want to help and it’s been great to be able to really highlight this refugee resettlement process because this has been going on in the United States for many, many years. It is a very safe and controlled process. Refugees are vetted before they come to the United States, and it’s really an honor to welcome them into our community”.

An Afghan family is seated in a Qatari transport plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 18, 2021.
An Afghan family is seated in a Qatari transport plane at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan on August 18, 2021.
Qatar Government Communications Office via AP

The organization has the capacity to resettle 200 people in Phoenix and 100 in Tucson. Usually they get the call to pick families up in less than 24 hours.

“We provide a home for them to live in, we furnish the home, we provide food, we make sure that they have everything they need, and then we begin to work with them so that they can learn about our culture, they can understand how to live in this new community that they find themselves in. We help enroll their children in school and work with them about understanding how the American school system works, and we help them with health care as well as employment,” said Phillips.

Another group looking for translators is The International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid, relief and development nongovernmental organization. They’re seeking volunteers, including those who are fluent in Pashto and Dari. They say some offices may have paid interpretation opportunities as well.