Alexandria sheriff’s deputy aims to provide familiar voice to arriving refugees

sahar sherzai
Alexandria sheriff’s deputy, Sahar Sherzai (second from left) with an Afghan refugee mother and daughter. (Courtesy Alexandria Sheriff’s Office).

“Protect and serve” are key parts of most law enforcement agency oaths — sometimes what’s needed is to listen and converse.

Alexandria Sheriff’s Deputy Sahar Sherzai has been with the department approximately five years, but she’s been something else her whole life: an Afghan-American.

When hundreds of refugees from Afghanistan started arriving in Northern Virginia, Sherzai felt a connection: “They’re just people coming here with the clothes on their back — my parents were those people.”

Sherzai said her family emigrated from Afghanistan in the early 1980s.

“My mother barely speaks English now,” said Sherzai, who was born in the U.S.

Sherzai volunteered to use her fluent knowledge of Farsi and cultural understanding to provide some comfort for refugees at the Emergency Repatriation Center, in the Dulles area.

Asked what she said to the refugees, her answers were what any person would want to hear when arriving in a strange place: “I’m here to help, in any way possible. Whether it’s to translate, or fill in forms, or just point them in the right direction.”

Not knowing a language is intimidating, Sherzai said. “I saw it firsthand with my mom. She would get so nervous going anywhere without me or my sister, because we were translating everything for her.”

Yet, despite being uncomfortable in the early days in a new country, Sherzai said the refugees were resilient: “I mean it’s unbelievable — they were considered the lucky ones.”

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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