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Government & Politics

A Muslim Refugee Who Worked with U.S. Forces in Afghanistan Talks About Trump's Refugee Ban

Jawid Ahmadzai
Jawid Ahmadzai in a Muslim from Afghanistan who spent seven years as an interpreter for U.S. troops there.

Early reports on the executive order President Donald Trump is expected to sign today do not include specific references to banning Muslim refugees. But it does drastically cut the number of refugees overall and puts special limits on those coming from Muslim countries. WKSU’s M.L. Schultze spoke with one recent Muslim refugee now settled in Akron about his experience and Trump’s proposal.

Jawid Ahmadzai’s life in America began with an orientation by the International Institute of Akron for all new refugees – focused on everything from jobs to hygiene.

But Ahmadzai’s life with America began much earlier – as an interpreter for seven years with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan. What drove him to do that was the memory of a day when he was about 10. Trucks lined both sides of a street in Kabul and Taliban fighters poured out.

“And they were like butchers going after people all over the place. And then my mom made me close my eyes and run with her.

A move toward peace
“There were people who said, ‘There won’t be a change at all. Nobody can beat Taliban.’ … It was pretty much a hopeless life.

That changed after 9-11, when word came that the U.S. would invade. Ahmadzai had studied English in school and, though their family was poor, a teacher gave him extra instruction at home.

He contacted the U.S. forces when they arrived.

And at age 18, his second day out of school, he became a U.S. Army combat interpreter, stationed on the front lines in the mountains of Waziristan near the Pakistan border.

“I was given a gun, and I had to put body armor on and dress like all the other soldiers and go out on the mountains and look for Taliban and al Qaeda.

“I did it because I wanted everything to change. I had this fear of Taliban in my heart. Each day I would remember that day when I walked on the street with my mom. I didn’t want that to come back. I wanted the girls to keep going to school. I wanted my family to live in peace and I wanted my family not to be in fear of Talibans attacking our house tonight or tomorrow night.”

Viewed as traitors
At the end of seven years, the troops withdrew and Ahmadzai put in for a visa to the U.S. He says he didn’t dare remain in Afghanistan.

Refugee orientation
The International Institute of Akron conducts a week of orientation for all new refugees. It's uncertain what will happen during the 120 days Donald Trump plans to block all refugees.

“Not only me, but all interpreters, we were called traitors. They thought that we are the ones who showed the Americans how to do business in Afghanistan, how the culture is, where the Talibans are. I would say it would be impossible to make it when the soldiers come out.”

'Making the wrong call could hurt the whole nation and could hurt a lot of friendly people who help the U.S.'

He said he started a new life in the U.S. thankful that he’s no longer worried “about getting shot at or blown up again,” and focused on his family, his wife, Nooria, and three children, Sultan, Sana and HImza (two of whom were born in the U.S.).

It’s a dream Ahmadzai says many immigrants share, and he thinks the U.S. is stronger for it.

“U.S is an immigrant country. Our first lady now is immigrant. It was the immigrants who built this country and made this country great.  And I think stopping immigrants will not only hurt the immigrants and refugees, but it will hurt the country as well. Immigrants are hard-working people.

“If I wasn’t given a visa to come here, I would have been killed by now. And what for? For serving for the U.S. (Denying visas “is like turning the person who served for your freedom, you’re turning him to your enemy.”

If Ahmadzai were speaking directly to Donald Trump, he says his message would be “Slow down, take it easy; you’re new in this game. Making the wrong call could hurt the whole nation and could hurt a lot of friendly people who help the U.S."

Jawid Ahmadzai worked the last three years in a food services plant in Medina and now is a case manager working with new refugees and immigrants at the International Institute of Akron.