David DiFabio is not a Quaker. He is an Air Force veteran and military contractor. But when he came to Plymouth Friends Meeting in Plymouth Meeting, Pa., in August, accompanying his elderly mother who is a member, he found Friends willing to help him rescue his Afghan interpreter friend.
DiFabio had met Bashir, a 31-year-old Afghan interpreter, while working in Afghanistan as a civilian communications contractor.
Bashir had worked as an interpreter for over ten years for the U.S. armed services at the Kandahar air base. But his visa paperwork was apparently rejected because of an error that undercounted his years of service, leaving Bashir stranded as the U.S. military left and Taliban forces began to retake the country this past summer.
For 12 days, DiFabio and his military contacts together with members of Plymouth Meeting worked alerting Pennsylvania legislators and trying to gain Bashir safe passage out of Afghanistan. A local legislative office dedicated a staff member to work exclusively on obtaining Bashir’s immigration paperwork. But a lot was up in the air as the August 31 deadline for the U.S. withdrawal approached.
“There were moments we were elated and thought this all was going to happen and within six hours we thought we had lost him,” Plymouth Meeting member David Miller told the Philadelphia Inquirer, which ran two stories to raise awareness of the plight of Bashir and other Afghan interpreters.
Then on August 26, special military forces secretly retrieved Bashir from his hiding place and brought him to the Baron Hotel outside the Kabul Airport. Those veterans, Friends, and local legislative staff seeking Bashir’s rescue began contacting members of the military and the State Department on Bashir’s behalf as time was running out. Bashir was able to be moved from the hotel to the airport and on to a plane for Qatar within hours of the bombing at the hotel, according to Miller.
“The remarkable thing about this all is that if we sat down and talked politics . . . it would have just exploded,” said Miller. “But we all just focused on Bashir. And it was unbelievable. . . . We can have very diverse ideas, but we can actually work on a problem together. This is the America I know.”
Bashir is currently in Canada, where he is still being assisted by DiFabio and Plymouth Meeting Friends as he tries to secure a Special Immigrant Visa so he can come to the United States.