By Danielle Baza
“The Taliban would kill me. They will torture us in front of our family. They will kill us in front of our family. They will make a video of it and send it to the other interpreters. It will be a warning message to other countries in the future to not help [the Americans].” - Janis Shinwari
The driving force behind the creation and operation of Guam Regional Medical City has put his community hat back on to lead an historic effort to evacuate 18,000 marked Afghans to Guam temporarily before the Taliban murders them. Local businessman Peter Sgro, Jr., president of the International Group, was joined by shipping executive Charlie Hermosa (a former Marine Corps captain), and Vice Speaker Tina Muna Barnes in a conference call today with national advocates for the move.
There were three major takeaways:
The Afghans will be murdered by the Taliban if the United States does not evacuate them; and at this point, Guam truly is the only reasonable place they can go temporarily while more permanent accommodations are found in the continental United States.
The decision has become a political one, beckoning the need for the support of the people of Guam, and the White House’s knowledge of that support.
Leaders from both sides of the political aisle are pressuring President Biden to make this decision. The final say is with Biden, and the clock is ticking.
Guam would serve as a transitional venue of asylum until they can reach the United States.
Ms. Muna Barnes started off the discussion with a question: “What can we do to make this happen,” she asked No One Left Behind founders Mark Zeller and Janis Shinwari. Shinwari is an Afghan, who saved Zeller’s life in Afghanistan while Zeller was a soldier and Shinwari an interpreter. He was evacuated to the United States, when he became a mark by the Taliban.
The men said collaboration is needed to help those in imminent danger to getting on the fast track to legal permanent residency and finally to citizenship in the United States. These refugees, like Shinwari, were translators for the U.S. military and are presently threatened to be killed by the Taliban for facilitating Americans in their efforts during wartime. Now that President Biden has decided to withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, it leaves them vulnerable to the hands of the enemy that has overtaken their home country.
Chris Purdy with the American Ideals Project and the group Human Rights First American Ideals lamented “The White House has been silent on this issue. We believe the White House is making a political calculation here. When we talk about the political help, we mean educating the White House on how important it is to evacuate these people.”
The urgency of their pleas and testimony was quite heartbreaking. Kim Staffieri, Executive Director & Co-Founder of Association of War Time Allies, recalled she “woke up to a message from the cousin of a man who was murdered by the Taliban. He was working with the U.S. military for 17 years.”
Mr. Shinwari’s firsthand experience called upon Guamanians to reach deep into our cultural roots of hospitality, and to embrace an humanitarian duty. When asked what the Taliban would have done to him, and what they will do to the 18,000 Afghans presently in danger, he said, “The Taliban would kill me. They will torture us in front of our family. They will kill us in front of our family. They will make a video of it and send it to the other interpreters. It will be a warning message to other countries in the future to not help [the Americans].”
He plead with the people of Guam, “We don’t have enough time. Let us raise our voices everybody to persuade and convince our president to do something before it is too late. Since the President announced the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, there has been no movement. They are dying. There is no question. The Taliban will kill them. Let us do something before it is too late.”
Mr. Purdy offers assurance “This can be done. We can do this quickly. We have the infrastructure. Those are the things the White House needs to know.” He goes on to say “We have Congress on our side. As soon as President Biden understands the need for this and that the capability is there, he’ll effectuate it.”
Ms. Muna Barnes added there are 10,000 beds available and if we needed to get creative, the CNMI could accommodate so that Guam could step up to the plate and help in any way possible.
Mr. Hermosa, general manager for American President Lines, said of the initiative, “I knew right away that we needed to step up, from the minute we landed in Afghanistan we had the full support of being able to establish our presence there and in October 2001, freshly new out of 9/11 they were very welcoming as far as getting us up and running so we definitely cannot leave them behind, honestly.”
“My heart is full hearing your willingness to help,” Ms. Staffieri said, overwhelmed by the support from Guam.