RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
In 2011, Marine Corps Sergeant Aaron Fleming deployed to Afghanistan. The translator assigned to him when he was there was an Afghan man named Sami Khazikani.
AARON FLEMING: I certainly looked at Sami not only as a key element to our success, operationally speaking, but as a very dear friend. And, you know, whether or not he ever earned the title of Marine, in my mind he certainly did with us on the battlefield.
MARTIN: Khazikani told me he knew at the time that he was signing up for a risky job.
SAMI KHAZIKANI: I wanted to help my country as well as help with the, you know, coalition forces because I could speak English. I knew the consequences. But I did - I wasn't careful about that really. But now I only live for my wife and for my child.
MARTIN: It was risky because working with the U.S. military in a war might be seen as a betrayal by people in his own community. That's exactly what happened. And he and his wife were forced to flee, first to Turkey and then to Greece. That's when he got in touch with his old friend, Sergeant Fleming.
FLEMING: It was not until he contacted me from Greece - which was, I believe, late August of 2015 - that I had really begun to understand in earnest his plight.
MARTIN: What finally compelled him to get out of his country?
FLEMING: So, you know, most of our interpreters over there, and himself included, tend to try to keep their employment history with the coalition forces a secret and - you know, for personal safety reasons. And Sami had taken some leave to go home and check up with his fiance and attend a wedding. At the wedding, a fellow Afghani Army soldier, one who had actually been in the unit that we were attached to, recognized Sami. So he was also a guest in attendance. He made it no secret exactly who Sami was and what his role was with the coalition forces, which, you know, caused quite a bit of an issue up there with his fiance's family His fiance's family had contacted the village elders to determine what should we do with the situation here. As it turned out, the village elders were closely tied in with the Taliban in that region. So they brought it up to the Taliban. So they came up with the solution to it, which was if they could find Sami, they were going to execute him. So he and Yasmiin - then his fiance, now his wife - got married in secret at a relative's house and the very next day, fled Afghanistan to Turkey where they lived for about a year. After about a year of living in Turkey, the Turkish government sent their immigration consulate by and essentially said to all of the refugees there, the Turkish government cannot support the burden on the economy of hosting you anymore. So it's time to go. But we're going to put you on a boat to Greece.
MARTIN: Does the U.S. government owe Sami anything?
FLEMING: I believe they do. I believe that Sami served the U.S. government faithfully and honorably and very proficiently. And I really genuinely believe that it's time that our U.S. government pays Sami back for the time that Sami has served working for us. To me, this is not an immigration problem. This is a refugee problem. And the interpreters who are hired to work for coalition forces go through a very thorough vetting process to ensure continuity in their veracity. And a lot of the background work with these guys have already been completed. It's already done. If anything, we should not be discussing necessarily the topic about how many Syrian refugees are we going to be taking in. We should be taking a look at those interpreters who are now in refugee status, who have served our government honorably. And we should be taking a look at them ahead of anybody else.
MARTIN: Sami Khazikani is now in Germany with his wife and daughter. He's applied for asylum there. But he's still hoping to get to the United States. For the past few months, Aaron Fleming has been trying to push Sami's case, but a series of bureaucratic hurdles has left his visa application in limbo.
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