WASHINGTON – Weeks after their dramatic escape from Kabul, tens of thousands of Afghans hoping to be resettled in the United States remain on military bases across the country and abroad as medical and security checks slow the process.
A small but worrisome measles outbreak has contributed to the delays, causing evacuation flights to halt as federal officials scramble to contain cases and vaccinate new arrivals against disease and other illnesses, including the coronavirus .
As of Tuesday, approximately 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in the United States. The vast majority were in danger under the Taliban after the United States withdrew from the country last month. Nearly 49,000 people live on eight national military bases, awaiting relocation to the United States, according to an internal federal document obtained by The New York Times. Around 18,000 are on bases abroad, mainly in Germany. Some go away in a few weeks, but most stay longer.
The projections, which involve an array of federal agencies, follow a condensed and frenzied evacuation effort last month shortly before the United States completed its withdrawal from Afghanistan. About 100 Americans who want to leave and an unknown number of vulnerable Afghans remain in the country.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken defended the Biden administration’s evacuation operation for hours of testimony in Congress this week, which included calls from critical Republican officials for his resignation and accusations that the administration failed had not adequately planned for the collapse of the Afghan government against the Taliban.
Blinken said there was no deadline to get the locals out and that “in the end, we completed one of the biggest airlifts in history, with 124,000 people evacuated instead. sure”.
As Afghan evacuees escaped the Taliban, their lives remain in limbo, with children restless and little to do on bases across the United States, including Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, where more than 12,700 people were hosted last week, and Fort Bliss in Texas, which received more than 9,700.
“We’ll be here a month or more,” said Milad Darwesh, who arrived at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey on Saturday after traveling for days to reach the United States. There are nearly 8,000 evacuees at the base.
Darwesh said he and his family narrowly escaped in Kabul on a grueling journey with the Taliban at their heels to the airport gates. They spent four days in Doha, Qatar, along with thousands of other evacuees, with little water to drink or wash. He and his family were then transported to an aircraft hangar at a base in Italy before finally making their way to Fort Dix.
“It’s good here,” said Darwesh, a former military translator who has been waiting two years for his visa to be processed. “We now have our own room.”
Many evacuees have arrived at Dulles International Airport in Virginia, and state hospitals have complained to the federal government of being overwhelmed by Afghans in need of medical attention. Healthcare providers have asked for financial help, and Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Tim Kaine, both Democrats, sent a letter to officials in the Biden administration calling for better coordination.
“Virginia ambulances and hospitals, already busy with the regular needs of patients and coping with the added stress of covid-19, have done a remarkable job of partnering with the federal agencies managing this treatment effort and ensuring that the emergency health needs of our Afghan partners are being met, “said Katie Stuntz, spokesperson for Kaine. “Healthcare providers deserve reimbursement for this work, and Senator Kaine is working with all stakeholders to make sure this happens.”
Refugee groups rushed for weeks to prepare to welcome large numbers of Afghan refugees, but so far have seen only a small number of people ready for resettlement.
“In the past few weeks, we have served over 100 people,” said Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, CEO of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement agency that has branches in 22 states. “Some come with little more than a backpack. We know the importance of an orderly system that treats and prepares these new Afghan arrivals, helping them make informed decisions about where they ultimately want to relocate. . “
[RESETTLING EVACUEES: Map of the United States not appearing above? Click here » arkansasonline.com/coronavirus/916evacuees/]
Ned Price, a spokesperson for the State Department, said Wednesday that the administration was trying to move evacuees out of military bases “as quickly and efficiently as possible.”
The United States should not accept Afghan refugees, including translators and others who helped the United States military during the 20 Years War, said Republican Senate candidate Jim Lamon, taking a tough stance against a a group of immigrants who received broad support. of both parties.
Rather than bringing them back to their homeland, the United States should help Afghans who participated in the war flee the Taliban and resettle in the Middle East, Lamon told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
“They should go to countries that are friends with them and with us,” Lamon said. “We cannot continue to be the refugee camp of the world.
Lamon shows up in a crowded Republican primary to take on Democratic Senator Mark Kelly.
His stance on refugees comes as GOP candidates across the country wonder how to balance grassroots skepticism about immigration with broad public support to provide refuge for Afghans who have risked their lives. helping the United States.
While many Republicans questioned whether the refugees were sufficiently controlled or suggested that the United States was accepting too many Afghans, few said that even those who helped American troops the most should be excluded.
His position puts him at odds with others in the GOP who say that accepting refugees is in line with Christian teachings.
Gov. Doug Ducey and Arizona House President Rusty Bowers, both Republicans, issued a joint statement last month hailing the “fair share” of Arizona refugees and pledging that the Refugee Resettlement Office of the state would help them settle.
“They helped our military in their country, and now we are ready to help them in ours,” said Ducey and Bowers.
Lamon said the United States has spent billions of dollars in the Middle East, including Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, and these countries “must have brought them and helped us in this regard.”
“What I would have suggested is that those who helped us, we help them move to neighboring countries,” Lamon said.
Refugee and human rights groups on Thursday called on the European Union to step up aid to those trying to flee Afghanistan, accusing the bloc of not doing enough to help those living in fear of the Taliban regime.
More than 100,000 people were airlifted out of Kabul in a chaotic exodus late last month after President Joe Biden announced the withdrawal of US troops and the Taliban took control of Afghanistan torn apart by conflict in just a few weeks. Thousands of other Afghans want to leave.
In new figures released on Thursday, the EU’s asylum agency said asylum claims from Afghans numbered 7,300 in July – before the government fell – an increase of 21% from June and the fifth consecutive monthly increase. Almost 1,200 were unaccompanied minors, the European Asylum Support Office reported. More than half of Afghan asylum claims in Europe are rejected.
“The EU should share, rather than shirk, the responsibility to provide them with protection,” said the 24 non-governmental organizations, including Amnesty International, Caritas Europa, the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam and the Red Cross, in a statement.
The groups have warned that 18 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, nearly half of the population. More than 630,000 people have been driven from their homes this year due to violence and drought.
There was no immediate reaction from the European Union.
Meanwhile, Dutch Foreign Minister Sigrid Kaag resigned Thursday after the lower house of parliament passed a motion of no-confidence against the government for its handling of evacuations from Afghanistan as part of the takeover of Taliban.
During a parliamentary debate on Wednesday evening, Kaag acknowledged that the government’s slow or confused response to warnings about the situation in Afghanistan meant that some local staff and people who had worked as translators for Dutch troops in the country no had not been evacuated.
After the motion was passed on Thursday, Kaag immediately announced that she would submit her resignation, saying Parliament had ruled “the Cabinet had acted irresponsibly.”
“I can only accept the consequences of this judgment as the minister with the ultimate responsibility,” she added.
Information for this article was provided by Jennifer Steinhauer and Eileen Sullivan of the New York Times; and by Jonathan J. Cooper, Lorne Cook and Mike Corder of the Associated Press.