FORT BLISS, Texas (AP) — The Biden administration on Friday offered the primary public look inside a U.S. army base the place Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are being screened, amid questions on how the federal government is caring for the refugees and vetting them.
“Each Afghan who’s right here with us has endured a harrowing journey and they’re now confronted with the very actual challenges of acclimating with life in the USA,” Liz Gracon, a senior State Division official, informed reporters.
The three-hour tour at Fort Bliss Military base in El Paso, Texas, was the primary time the media has been granted broad entry to one of many eight U.S. army installations housing Afghans.
Besides, reporters, together with these with The Related Press, weren’t allowed to speak with any evacuees or spend quite a lot of minutes in areas the place they have been gathered, with army officers citing “privateness issues.”
Almost 10,000 Afghan evacuees are staying on the base whereas they endure medical and safety checks earlier than being resettled in the USA. The operation was described by officers on the Division of Homeland Safety and Division of State as a “historic” and “unprecedented” effort to facilitate the relocation of an enormous variety of refugees in lower than a month’s time.
On Friday, Afghan kids with soccer balls and basketballs performed exterior giant white tents. Households walked down a dust driveway with stacks of plastic meals containers piled beneath their chins and Coca-Cola cans beneath their arms. One younger lady, nonetheless sporting soiled clothes, cried in the midst of the street after her meals spilled and troopers tried to assist her. Contained in the containers, which refugees had spent round quarter-hour in line for within the blistering solar, have been conventional Afghan meals of basmati rice and hearty stew.
The U.S. authorities spent two weeks constructing what it calls a village to deal with the Afghans on the bottom. It’s a sprawling space with scores of air-conditioned tents used as dormitories and eating halls on scrubby grime heaps, a panorama that in some methods resembled elements of the homeland they fled.
Underneath this system known as “Operation Allies Welcome,” some 50,000 Afghans are anticipated to be admitted to the USA, together with translators, drivers and others who helped the U.S. army throughout the 20-year warfare and who feared reprisals by the Taliban after they rapidly seized energy final month.
Almost 130,000 have been airlifted out of Afghanistan in one of many largest mass evacuations in U.S. historical past. A lot of these persons are nonetheless in transit, present process safety vetting and screening in different nations, together with Germany, Spain, Kuwait and Qatar.
Members of Congress have questioned whether or not the screening is thorough sufficient. Lots of the Afghans who labored for the U.S. authorities have undergone years of vetting already earlier than they have been employed, after which once more to use for a particular immigrant visa for U.S. allies.
After they’re launched from the bottom, they are going to be aided by resettlement companies accountable for inserting the refugees. The companies give precedence to locations the place the refugees both have household already in the USA or there are Afghan immigrant communities with the sources to assist them begin a brand new life in a international land. These with American citizenship or inexperienced playing cards are in a position to go away as soon as arriving on the base, in accordance with a State Division consultant.
If different evacuees — whose launch relies on finishing well being protocols mandated by the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention — select to depart previous to the complete resettlement interval, that could be used in opposition to them.
To this point, nobody at Fort Bliss has been launched for resettlement.
The Pentagon has mentioned all evacuees are examined for COVID-19 upon arriving at Dulles Worldwide Airport exterior Washington.
The Biden administration can also be utilizing the bottom to deal with hundreds of immigrant kids, largely from Central America, who’ve been crossing the U.S.-Mexico border in file numbers on their very own, with out adults. The youngsters are housed there till they are often reunited with kin already in the USA or with a sponsor, normally a household good friend, or despatched to a licensed facility.
Related Press author Julie Watson contributed to this report from San Diego.
Farnoush Amiri is a corps member for the Related Press/Report for America Statehouse Information Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit nationwide service program that locations journalists in native newsrooms to report on undercovered points.