Afghan Evacuees Stranded on U.S. Military Bases

FORT MCCOY, Wis. — In late August, evacuees from Afghanistan started arriving by the busload to the Fort McCoy Military base within the Midwest, carrying little greater than cellphones and harrowing tales of their slim escapes from a rustic they could by no means see once more. They had been greeted by troopers, assigned rooms in white barracks and suggested to not stray into the encircling forest, lest they get misplaced.

Greater than a month later, the distant base some 170 miles from Milwaukee is house to 12,600 Afghan evacuees, virtually half of them youngsters, now larger than any metropolis in western Wisconsin’s Monroe County.

The story is far the identical on seven different army installations from Texas to New Jersey. General, roughly 53,000 Afghans have been residing at these bases for the reason that chaotic evacuation from Kabul this summer season that marked the tip of 20 years of battle. Whereas many Individuals have turned their consideration away from the most important evacuation of battle refugees since Vietnam, the operation could be very a lot a piece in progress right here, overseen by a bunch of federal businesses and hundreds of U.S. troops.

Whereas an preliminary group of about 2,600 folks — largely former army translators and others who helped allied forces in the course of the battle — moved shortly into American communities, a overwhelming majority stay stranded on these sprawling army manner stations, unsure of when they’ll have the ability to begin the brand new American lives they had been anticipating. An extra 14,000 persons are nonetheless on bases overseas, ready for switch to the US.

“We constructed a metropolis to deal with virtually 13,000 visitors,” mentioned Col. Jen McDonough, deputy commander for sustainment at Fort McCoy, the place about 1,600 service members are tasked with guaranteeing the huge operation runs easily.

On a latest heat autumn day right here, refugees performed a pickup sport of soccer with troopers, younger youngsters made arts and crafts with volunteers whereas their moms studied English in an adjoining classroom, and households at a warehouse rummaged by means of bins of donated underwear, shirts and jackets.

Afghan evacuees mentioned they had been grateful for the nice and cozy reception they’ve obtained on the fort, however for a lot of, the lengthy wait has been grueling. None have left the bottom since arriving, until they had been inexperienced card holders or U.S. residents.

“I’ve requested many occasions in regards to the date of departure,’’ mentioned Farwardin Khorasani, 36, who was an interpreter on the U.S. embassy in Kabul. He fled Afghanistan together with his spouse and two younger daughters and hopes to relocate to Sacramento. “We’re jobless right here and don’t have anything to do.”

U.S. officers say the delays are a results of a measles outbreak, medical checks and a vaccination marketing campaign, in addition to the necessity to full immigration processing, which entails interviews, biometric exams and functions for work permits. Most bases in the US are at or close to capability, and Afghan evacuees ready on bases within the Center East, Spain and Germany will be flown in solely as soon as area opens up.

A scarcity of housing is also creating delays. Many households want to settle the place they have already got mates or family, in locations with present Afghan communities comparable to California and the Washington, D.C., space. However officers have mentioned {that a} dearth of inexpensive residences may postpone their resettlement. On Thursday, Congress handed a short-term spending invoice that included $6.3 billion to relocate and settle Afghan refugees.

Gen. Glen D. VanHerck, commander of the US Northern Command, which oversees the operation at Fort McCoy, mentioned the army was ready to accommodate arrivals on bases by means of the spring, giving the authorities time to work by means of the housing scarcity.

“We’ve constructed housing capability and we’re offering our Afghan visitors the surroundings they want,” he mentioned.

One of many first priorities has been to inoculate evacuees towards quite a lot of illnesses.

There have been 24 instances of measles, prompting a vaccination marketing campaign towards that sickness, together with mumps, rubella and polio, an effort that’s simply winding down. Individuals should wait at the very least 21 days after these vaccinations earlier than receiving medical clearance to depart the bases.

Virtually 85 p.c of all evacuees on bases have obtained the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine towards the coronavirus, and the speed of an infection among the many inhabitants is lower than 1 p.c, Common VanHerck mentioned.

The bases even have seen crime, not not like densely packed cities.

Two Afghan evacuees are in federal custody; one has been charged with partaking in a sexual act with a minor and one other charged with assaulting his partner, each at Fort McCoy.

The F.B.I. is investigating an assault on a feminine service member by Afghan males at Fort Bliss in El Paso. And in Quantico, Va., a army police officer on guard obligation reported that he had noticed a 24-year-old Afghan sexually assaulting a 3-year-old Afghan lady, in keeping with a prison grievance.

Common VanHerck mentioned the army would “proceed taking all vital measures to make sure the security” of each these working on the bottom and the Afghan evacuees. He mentioned many studies to regulation enforcement had been made by Afghans.

The residents seen on a tightly managed media tour of the bottom represented a cross-section of Afghan society.

Amongst them was a bunch of 148 younger girls who hoped to complete their college training in the US, and the principal of a global faculty. There was an Afghan Air Drive pilot who had realized to fly UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters in Alabama and Texas.

There have been women and men from distant provinces, together with a cook dinner who had ready meals for troopers in a far-flung outpost. Some folks wore conventional Afghan apparel. Others donned denims and T-shirts. About half knew some English, however others would want to start studying to learn and write as soon as they resettled in the US, officers mentioned.

Farzana Mohammadi, a member of the Afghan girls’s Paralympic basketball staff who has been unable to stroll since she had polio as a toddler, mentioned she hoped to maintain enjoying sports activities and to check psychology in Seattle.

Whereas optimistic about her personal future, “I’m solely considering on a regular basis about my mother and father and youthful sister,” mentioned Ms. Mohammadi, 24, whose household was nonetheless in Kabul.

About 50 to 60 folks dwell in every two-story barracks, the place single beds sit side-by-side. For privateness, households have improvised partitions utilizing sheets.

There are strong safety particulars outdoors the residing quarters, that are clustered into “communities,” every with a middle the place evacuees can get private hygiene objects or find out about actions, comparable to city halls with army management.

“Seize and go” cafes providing tea, espresso and lightweight snacks are bustling. However the eight self-service laundromats have been underutilized: Most Afghans have most popular to scrub their clothes by hand and dangle it out to dry on traces, which the army shortly erected.

An imam certifies that meals served at 4 cafeterias are halal, however the traces to purchase pizza on the base alternate usually stretch outdoors.

After weeks of being bottled up along with no timeline for leaving, there have been tensions among the many residents. Fights usually escape within the line to enter the cafeteria, and there are occasional arguments between folks from completely different tribes.

A number of younger single girls mentioned they had been verbally harassed by Afghan males as a result of they had been on the bottom alone.

“We had been advised, ‘How are you right here with out your male relative? We gained’t tolerate this,’” recalled Nilab Ibrahimy, 23, who made it to the Kabul airport in a convoy of seven buses carrying the 148 college students from the Asian College for Ladies, primarily based in Bangladesh, the place that they had all been learning earlier than the coronavirus outbreak stranded them in Kabul.

Ms. Ibrahimy took the problem to the U.S. army management, and your complete group of scholars was moved to a different barracks housing primarily single girls. There have been no issues since, she and others mentioned.

Passing the time has been one other problem. “After we arrived right here, we had been sitting in our rooms doing nothing,” mentioned Sepehra Azami, 25, who was learning economics earlier than she fled.

Ms. Azami, Ms. Ibrahimy and one other good friend, Batool Bahnam, requested some moms whether or not they had been thinking about having their youngsters study primary conversational English: What’s your title? How are you? Thanks.

They had been. Quickly, adults started approaching the younger girls about classes, too, and courses had been added for men and women. “The demand is actually excessive,” Ms. Azami mentioned. “Households are scuffling with language limitations.”

Mounds of clothes have been donated to the refugees, but it surely took till final week for each evacuee to obtain objects.

On Thursday, it was lastly the flip of a 12-year-old boy named Nayatola. Wearing a brown kurta pajama, he searched for garments in his measurement. He ended up with an oversize white pullover. On his ft had been the adult-size plastic slippers his father had introduced from Afghanistan — Nayatola had no different footwear.

Because the day wore on, youngsters may very well be seen outdoors doodling with chalk. When the guests handed by, they known as out. “Hi there, how are you?” a number of of them shouted, making an attempt out their new English phrases.

Abdulhadi Pageman, the previous Afghan Air Drive pilot, seemed towards the warehouse the place households had been getting garments. “These youngsters are the way forward for the US,” he mentioned, speaking in regards to the youngsters on the bottom. “They are going to be scientists, engineers. You simply must be affected person.”

Seamus Hughes contributed reporting from Alexandria, Va.

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