Almost 50,000 Afghan refugees live in limbo on US military bases.
Afghan refugees who have been relocated to military bases in the United States say they have no supplies for next winter and do not know how long they will have to wait for permanent homes.
The largest population of Afghan evacuees in the U.S. is in Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, a sprawling base currently hosting 13,000 refugees.
Several refugees told OkeyNews They do not have winter clothing like jackets or gloves, even when the temperatures have dropped steadily.
Some said they have been at the base for months and are not clear when they will be able to leave.
Conditions at Fort McCoy are just one example of what critics say is the Biden administration’s unpreparedness when it comes to Afghan refugees.
About 70,000 Afghans have arrived in the United States since Aug. 17, in a chaotic and incomplete evacuation. Tens of thousands of Afghan nationals who had worked with the United States were left behind.
Upon 50,000 evacuees remain in immigration limbo on military bases, and The Pentagon said 44% of Afghan refugees in US bases were children from October.
Volunteer and refugee resettlement groups say they are overwhelmed and understaffed, and the government appears to lack a strategy for getting these people to live in the United States.
“There was never a plan because it was so chaotic from the beginning and there are so many unknowns,” said Spojmie Ahmady Nasiri, a California-based immigration attorney who has visited five of the eight bases where Afghans are currently housed. “You are trying to put out the fires as you go along and many people are suffering in the process.”
Limited access to warm clothing and medical care
More Afghans are expected to arrive at Fort McCoy, an active military base 105 miles northwest of Madison, in the coming months.
The base also houses 1,600 members of the armed forces and 900 contractors who help serve meals and provide security, surveillance, and medical care.
A 25-year-old Afghan college student said she arrived at Fort McCoy in September after leaving her family in Afghanistan. She said she only had the clothes she was wearing and that they didn’t give her new ones for over a month.
When he was able to get new, clean clothes in October, his options were limited to T-shirts and shorts, even as temperatures dropped in Wisconsin.
OkeyNews spoke with three Afghan women who said the clothing program, spearheaded by Team Rubicon, a nongovernmental organization specializing in disaster response commissioned by the Defense Department to provide clothing to the base, was chaotic and disorganized.
All three women asked to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation for speaking out.
The women said they were told they had less than 20 minutes to examine containers of clothing, shoes, and other essentials and that they could only store a limited number of items.
Lack of time caused panic and the refugees said they grabbed as much as they could. People pushed each other out of fear of losing their winter clothes.
They said many went home with clothes and shoes that did not fit or were not appropriate for the season.
“It really was a problem,” said the 25-year-old, who ended up giving away most of her clothes to other women because they didn’t fit.
“It’s getting cold. We didn’t get this cold at home in Afghanistan. We didn’t get winter jackets. The shoes they gave us didn’t fit us because we were in a rush. It’s the same with other girls.”
A second Afghan woman said she went to the distribution center twice in October but was unable to get warm clothes.
When he fell ill one day and suffered from stomachaches, he said he had to wait several hours in a long line before seeing a doctor.
When he complained to military personnel, he said that some members responded aggressively.
“I felt like a beggar,” he said.
A third woman told OkeyNews that she resorted to seeking outside help due to difficulties in obtaining warm clothing. An aunt living in Canada started mailing her clothes.
“We haven’t really seen a coordinated plan from the administration on how to get Afghan allies and other vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan and into the United States.”
– Sunil Varghese, IRAP Policy Director
The Rubicon team did not respond to OkeyNews’s request for comment. A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security told OkeyNews that the task force in charge of distribution “has successfully provided a coat of the appropriate size to each Afghan evacuee at the base.”
There has also been 22 confirmed measles cases at the base, putting the refugees in danger. The DHS spokesman said there have been no active cases since early October and that “more than 70,000 evacuated Afghans received age-appropriate vaccinations, including measles, mumps, and rubella as a condition of their humanitarian parole.”
But refugees at the base say access to halal food, culturally sensitive clothing, and adequate medical and dental care remains a problem.
Chaos from evacuation to resettlement
Some bases have been better equipped to handle the influx of refugees than others, advocates say. But there are some constant problems, mainly due to the hasty and disorganized evacuation process.
“These people have endured extraordinary hardship from the moment they tried to enter the airport to get into the water lilies and enter the paradises,” Nasiri said. “There is a lot of trauma. There is a lot of mistrust and uncertainty ”.
The International Refugee Assistance Project, InterAction, and Human Rights First published a report on Wednesday that you recommended ways the Biden administration could provide more avenues out of Afghanistan and other countries where refugees have landed, as well as how to resettle them to the US more quickly.
Tens of thousands of Afghans who qualified for evacuation are still waiting for the next steps, according to some advocates, it is likely not well counted because many vulnerable groups are still waiting to apply.
They say President Joe Biden’s administration could establish a screening process for Afghans at risk in a third country, accept alternative methods of identity verification for those who fled without their documents, and increase resources to allow further consular and refugee processing. Quick.
“We haven’t really seen a coordinated plan from the administration on how to get Afghan allies and other vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan and into the United States, especially those who are eligible for humanitarian pathways in the United States,” Sunil Varghese said, IRAP’s policy director.
The White House has defended its process of withdrawal from Afghanistan.
Even after the arrival of the Afghans in the United States, the uncertainty continues.
Last month, the Biden administration announced a new program that would allow private citizen groups to sponsor Afghan refugees and help with basic services during their first 90 days in the country, a task traditionally led by resettlement groups.
Refugee agencies have applauded the move, particularly as organizations are overwhelmed and still rebuilding after years of budget cuts under President Donald Trump.
“Unfortunately, the previous administration and the dismantling of the program has really left the resume agencies in a kind of backbone mode, many of us are operating with fewer staff,” said Stacey Clack, director of sponsorship and community engagement at Church. World Service, a faith-based resettlement agency.
More than 22,000 Afghan nationals, US citizens, and legal permanent US residents who were evacuated since then have been moved from the base to long-term housing, according to DHS.
Of these, resettlement agencies placed 16,500. Still, about 50,000 evacuees they still remain at US bases across the country.
“It has been somewhat alarming to some of us how quickly we were asked to expand the program because we are really concerned about customer protection,” Clack said.
“We want to make sure that our coming Afghan friends and allies, whether families or individuals have adequate support when they leave the bases and enter the communities.”
Refugees still on the bases say they do not have a clear timetable for when they will be able to leave. Families separated during the evacuation also do not know when or how they will be reunited.
The pandemic and the national shortage of affordable housing have also compounded these problems. The immigration system was barely keeping up with the influx of new refugees, advocates say.
“The State Department and resettlement agencies are actively working to expand housing capacity, as possible, and are connected to a wide range of national and local resources,” said a department spokesman.
“There is capacity in many communities across the country that offer affordable and affordable housing and robust services, and where possible people will be resettled in these areas. In general, temporary accommodation is necessary for a period of time. ”
IRAP and immigration attorneys told OkeyNews they are concerned that refugees will fall into bureaucratic limbo.
Afghan citizens entering the United States on parole may have to wait years to receive asylum status. There are currently more than 350,000 pending asylum cases, some of which date back several years.
Even those eligible for permanent status through refugee or special immigrant visa process, or it could take years, too, as that program has nearly 18,000 late applicants.
DHS announced earlier this week that waive immigration-related fees for up to 70,000 Afghans who resettled in the U.S. Advocates applauded the move.
But called on the administration to do more, including introducing the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill that would give Afghans a sheet of the route too quickly becoming legal permanent residents.
Meanwhile, lawyers and resettlement agencies have relied heavily on grassroots and community support to fill the gaps left by government officials.
It has also forced resettlement groups to think creatively about solutions to streamline the growing interest of people who want to contribute and help.
“It is really bringing people together. Communities of faith are intensifying. Rotary clubs are stepping up, ”Clack said. “Groups like book clubs and yoga clubs.
Community members from all walks of life are really stepping up to say that we want to be a part of this welcome.”