Afghan refugees living on US military bases have been waiting for months

FORT MCCOY, Wis. – At the end of August, refugees from Afghanistan began arriving by bus at Fort McCoy Army Base in the Midwest, carrying little more than cellphones, and stories of their narrow escape would never be seen again. The soldiers greeted them, assigned rooms in the white barracks, and did not wander into the surrounding forest, so that they would lose.

More than a month later, the remote lake, 170 miles from Milwaukee, is home to 12,600 Afghan refugees, almost half of whom are now older than any city in Monroe County, West Wisconsin.

The story revolves around seven other military installations from Texas to New Jersey. In all, an estimated 53,000 Afghans have been living in the camps since the chaotic exodus from Kabul this summer, ending a 20-year war. While many Americans have turned their attention to the largest exodus of war refugees since Vietnam, the operation is under the supervision of several federal agencies and thousands of U.S. troops.

An initial group of about 2,600 people – mainly former military translators and others who helped the Allies during the war – quickly migrated to American communities, but the majority are stranded at stations on this vast military route, uncertain when they will begin new American life. Was expected. An additional 14,000 people are still stranded abroad, awaiting transfer to the United States.

“We’ve built a city for about 13,000 visitors,” said Col. Jane McDonough, deputy commander of sustainability at Fort McCoy, where about 1,600 service members have been tasked with ensuring large-scale operations run smoothly.

On a warm autumn day here recently, the refugees played a pickup game of soccer with the soldiers, the kids made arts and crafts with the volunteers, their mothers studied English in a nearby classroom, and the families in the warehouse cluttered with donated underwear, shirts and box boxes. Jackets.

The Afghan refugees said they were grateful for the warm welcome they received at the fort, but for many the long wait was gruesome. No one left the camp after arriving, unless they were green card holders or U.S. citizens.

Farvardin Khorasani, 36, an interpreter at the US embassy in Kabul, said: “I have been asked several times about the date of departure. He fled Afghanistan with his wife and two young daughters, hoping to immigrate to Sacramento. “We’re unemployed here and we don’t want to do anything.”

U.S. officials say the delay is the result of a measles outbreak, a medical examination and vaccination campaign, as well as the need to complete the immigration process, which includes interviews, biometric exams and applications for work permits. Most bases in the United States are within or near capacity, and Afghan refugees stationed at bases in the Middle East, Spain, and Germany can be evacuated as soon as space opens.

Lack of housing is also causing delays. In places with existing Afghan communities, such as California and Washington DC, where they already have friends or relatives, many families wish to settle. But officials say the lack of affordable apartments could delay their rehabilitation. On Thursday, Congress passed a short-term spending bill that included $ 6.3 billion for the relocation and resettlement of Afghan refugees.

General Glenn D., commander of the United States Northern Command, overseeing the operation at Fort McCoy. VanHark said the Army is ready to facilitate the arrival of spring through the spring, giving officers time to work on housing shortages.

He said, “We have built housing capacity and we are providing the necessary environment to our Afghan visitors.

The first priority is to vaccinate refugees against various diseases.

Twenty-four cases of measles have been found, prompting vaccination campaigns against the disease, including mumps, rubella and polio, an attempt that is just being stopped. People will have to wait at least 21 days after that vaccination before getting medical approval to leave the base.

About 85 percent of all refugees at the bottom have received a single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine against coronavirus, and the rate of infection in the population is less than 1 percent, General VanHark said.

Talans have also seen crime, unlike densely populated cities.

Two Afghan refugees are in federal custody; One is accused of having sex with a minor and the other of assaulting his partner at Fort McCoy.

The FBI is investigating an attack on a female service member by Afghan men at Fort Bliss in El Paso. And Quantico, V. In, a military police officer on guard duty reported that he saw a 24-year-old Afghan man sexually assault a 3-year-old Afghan girl, according to a criminal complaint.

General Vanhark said the military would continue to take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of those working on the ground and refugees from Afghanistan. He said a number of reports have been made by Afghans for law enforcement.

Residents appearing on the tour of the bottom strictly controlled media represent a cross-section of Afghan society.

Among them was a group of 148 young people who hoped to complete their university education in the United States and the principal of an international school. Was an Afghan Air Force pilot who learned to fly UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in Alabama and Texas.

There were men and women from the remote province, including a cook who prepared food for the soldiers in the outpost. Some were dressed in traditional Afghan attire. Others wore jeans and T-shirts. About half of the people knew some English, but others needed to learn to read and write once they settled in the United States, officials said.

Farzana Mohammadi, a member of the Afghan women’s Paralympic basketball team who has not been able to walk since childhood polio, said she hopes to continue playing sports and study psychology in Seattle.

While optimistic about her own future, “I’m just thinking all the time about my parents and younger sister,” said Ms Mohammadi, 24, whose family was still in Kabul.

Each two-story barracks accommodates about 50 to 60 people, with single beds sitting next to each other. For privacy, families have made modified partitions using sheets.

Outside the living quarters there are strong security details, which are grouped into “communities”, each center where refugees can get personal hygiene items or learn about activities such as town halls with military leadership.

The “catch and go” cafes are crowded with tea, coffee and light snacks. But the use of eight self-service laundromats has been reduced: most Afghans prefer to wash their clothes by hand and hang them to dry on the line, which the army quickly erected.

An imam certifies that meals served in four cafeterias are halal, but lines are often spread out to buy pizza at the base exchange.

After several weeks of bottling without any time limit to get out, there has been tension among the residents. There are often queues to enter the restaurant, and occasional disputes between people of different tribes.

Several young unmarried women said they were being verbally harassed by Afghan men because they were alone at the bottom.

“We were told, ‘How are you here without your male family members? We will not tolerate this, ”recalls Nilab Ibrahimi, 23, who arrived at Kabul airport in a convoy of seven buses carrying 148 students from the Asian University for Women in Bangladesh, where they had all been studying before. He was stranded in Kabul due to an outbreak of the coronavirus.

Ms. Ibrahimi took the issue to the U.S. military leadership and the entire group of students was moved to another barracks, mainly occupied by unmarried women. There were no problems after that, she and others said.

Spending time was another challenge. “When we got here, we were sitting in our rooms doing nothing,” said Sepera Azmi, a 25-year-old economics student before fleeing.

Ms. Azmi, Ms. Ibrahimi and another friend, Batul Bahnam, asked some mothers if they were interested in teaching their children basic conversational English: What is your name? How r u Thank you.

That was it. Soon, adults also began to approach young women about the lessons, and classes for women and men were added. “The demand is really high,” Ms. Azmi said. “Families are struggling with language barriers.”

Refugees have been donated heaps of clothing, but it took until last week for each refugee to receive the goods.

At the end of Thursday, it was the turn of a 12-year-old boy named Naitola. Dressed in brown kurta pajamas, he searched for clothes in his size. He finished with a large white pullover. On his feet were adult-sized plastic slippers brought by his father from Afghanistan नाय Naito had no other shoes.

As the day progressed, children were seen doodling outside with chalk. He called as the guests approached. “Hello, how are you?” Some of them shouted and tried their new English sentences.

Former Afghan Air Force pilot Abdul Hadi Pageman observed The warehouse where the families were getting clothes. Speaking about the kids at the bottom, he said, “These kids are the future of America.” “They will be scientists, engineers. You just have to be patient. ”

Seamus Hughes Contributed to the report from Alexandria, VA.

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