An Afghan-born interpreter who worked with Special Forces and Marines deployed to Afghanistan in the 2010s has made it to Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Rafi worked with the American military from 2010 until he was wounded in 2014.
Sgt. 1st Class Manny Munguia met Rafi during a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan in 2012.
Rafi was 22 years old at the time and worked for the Special Forces operational detachment that Munguia served with, helping Special Forces soldiers communicate with key Afghan leaders.
Rafi was often alongside American troops when they were under Taliban fire, Munguia said.
“For me, after nine months, I’d come back and get some rest,” Munguia said. “For Rafi, my team would leave and he’d work with another team. So, it was nonstop patrols and missions for him for about five years.”
Rafi’s commitment to American forces is why Munguia and several service members signed letters in support of Rafi getting a special immigrant visa to come to the U.S., Munguia said recently at a Fayetteville coffee shop.
Threatened by the Taliban, Rafi fled to Greece in 2016.
Munguia said Rafi told him in 2017 that he needed help getting his visa and the Greek authorities were giving him a hard time because he was an immigrant.
He was able to register as an immigrant in Greece in 2020, but in the process, he had to surrender his Afghan passport.
Obtaining the passport and the COVID-19 pandemic caused delays for Rafi getting to the U.S. until his visa was approved in December.
He landed in the states in January this year and made it to Fayetteville by March 6.
Munguia said Rafi now faces a new set of challenges.
He has three sisters still in Kabul.
His mother, two sisters and sister-in-law are in Turkey.
To bring Rafi’s family to the U.S., Munguia said, Rafi would need to become an American citizen — a process that could take up to five years.
New life in the U.S.
Munguia said the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Internationals in Raleigh tried to help Rafi through cash assistance and in finding an attorney. But finding permanent housing and a job has been delayed.
“I would like to get a house,” Rafi said as he sat at the coffee shop. “I would like some help because of my injuries. I still have the same problems.”
Munguia said Iraqi and Afghan nationals who were wounded in action while serving alongside American service members do not receive the same medical and compensation benefits as veterans.
“All these people put their lives on the line to help out American troops,” Munguia said. “Their families are still in danger under threat due to their affiliation with the U.S. government working for them, and what kind of compensation can they get? What kind of benefits?”
Munguia said Rafi’s injuries leave him unable to work physically demanding jobs.
With Munguia’s help, Rafi just now obtained a driver’s permit and is working at Afghan Kabob.
Munguia said policy changes that would make things easier for Rafi and other Afghan immigrants would include the government having more case managers to help the refugees adjust to life in the U.S, and granting waivers for American citizenship, medical care and bringing family members to the U.S.
Rafi’s long-term goal, Munguia said, is to be able to work with refugee youth.
During Rafi’s time in Greece, he mentored youth susceptible to gangs, violence and drug use, cooking for them and teaching them life skills, Mungia said.
Rafi said while he misses Afghanistan, his life is now in the U.S.
“I cannot go back to Afghanistan because of the Taliban being in power,” he said. “There’s no future for me there.”