Hundreds of Afghans on American Navy Bases Await Resettlement




WASHINGTON — Weeks after their dramatic escape from Kabul, tens of 1000’s of Afghans hoping to be resettled in america stay on navy bases throughout the nation and abroad as medical and safety screenings gradual the method.

A small but worrisome measles outbreak has contributed to the delays, inflicting a halt in evacuation flights as federal officers scramble to comprise instances and inoculate new arrivals towards the illness and different sicknesses, together with the coronavirus.

As of Sept. 14, about 64,000 evacuees from Afghanistan had arrived in america. The overwhelming majority have been in danger underneath Taliban rule after the U.S. withdrawal from the nation final month. Practically 49,000 live on eight home navy bases, ready to be resettled in america, based on an inner federal doc obtained by The New York Instances. Roughly 18,000 are on bases abroad, largely in Germany. Some depart inside weeks, however most keep longer.

The screenings, which contain an array of federal businesses, observe a condensed and harried evacuation effort final month shortly earlier than america accomplished its withdrawal from Afghanistan. About 100 Americans who wish to depart, and an unknown variety of susceptible Afghans, stay within the nation.

Antony J. Blinken, the secretary of state, defended the Biden administration’s evacuation operation throughout hours of congressional testimony this week, which included calls from Republican critics for his resignation and expenses that the administration did not adequately plan for the Afghan authorities’s collapse to the Taliban.

Mr. Blinken stated there was no deadline for getting folks in another country and that “ultimately, we accomplished one of many greatest airlifts in historical past, with 124,000 folks evacuated to security.”

Whereas Afghan evacuees have escaped the Taliban, their lives stay in limbo, with stressed kids and little to do on the bases throughout america, together with Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, the place greater than 12,700 folks have been being housed as of final week, and Fort Bliss in Texas, which has obtained greater than 9,700.

“We might be right here one month or extra,” stated Milad Darwesh, who arrived Saturday at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in New Jersey after touring for days to succeed in america. There are practically 8,000 evacuees on the base.

Mr. Darwesh stated he and his household narrowly escaped Kabul in a harrowing journey with the Taliban on their heels to the gates of the airport there. They spent 4 days in Doha, Qatar, together with 1000’s of different evacuees, with little water for consuming or washing. He and his household have been then transported to an airplane hangar at a base in Italy earlier than lastly making it to Fort Dix.

“It’s good right here,” stated Mr. Darwesh, a former navy translator who has been ready for 2 years to have his visa processed. “We now have our personal room.”

Zainullah Zaki, who’s touring together with his household, landed in Qatar on Aug. 18 and traveled on to Germany, the place he has been informed time and again that he may be on a flight “in days.”

“Due to measles, all of the flights are paused proper now,” John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, stated on Wednesday about these nonetheless on navy installations abroad. “So no person goes anyplace. However our aim has been to attempt to transfer them as shortly as doable. We all know that these women and men and their households wish to get on with their lives.”

Seven measles instances have been found amongst Afghans on the home navy bases. Only a few evacuees have examined optimistic for the coronavirus, based on a Sept. 10 inner authorities replace. Afghan nationals settling in america are required to have a sequence of vaccinations, that are being given at navy bases in america and can quickly be administered abroad as nicely.

Many evacuees have arrived at Dulles Worldwide Airport in Virginia, and hospitals within the state have complained to the federal authorities that they’ve been overwhelmed by Afghans in want of medical remedy. Well being care suppliers have requested for monetary help, and Virginia’s two senators, Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine, each Democrats, despatched a letter to Biden administration officers pushing for higher coordination.

“Virginia ambulances and hospitals, already occupied with common affected person wants and coping with the extra stress of Covid, have finished very good work to companion with federal businesses managing this processing effort and ensure that emergency well being wants of our Afghan companions are met,” Katie Stuntz, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kaine, stated. “The well being suppliers deserve reimbursement for this work, and Senator Kaine is working with all stakeholders to ensure that occurs.”

Refugee teams have scrambled for weeks to arrange for giant numbers of Afghan refugees however to date have seen solely a trickle of individuals able to be resettled.

“In previous few weeks, we served greater than 100 folks,” stated Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, the chief govt of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a resettlement company that has associates in 22 states. “Some are coming with little greater than a backpack. We all know the significance of an orderly system that processes and prepares these new Afghan arrivals, serving to them make knowledgeable selections on the place they finally wish to resettle.”

Ned Worth, a State Division spokesman, stated on Wednesday that the administration was making an attempt to maneuver the evacuees off navy bases “as shortly and effectively as we are able to.”

“We want to see them resettled in communities,” Mr. Worth stated. “So it’s not in our curiosity, it’s not of their curiosity for them to reside on a U.S. navy base or another official set up for any longer than is important, and I feel you’ll see that we’re capable of administer these very important steps with a great deal of effectivity.”

U.S. navy service members have been supporting Afghans at bases by elevating funds and delivering gadgets reminiscent of prenatal nutritional vitamins, dietary dietary supplements and clothes. Many nonprofits, together with Armed Providers YMCA and the Catholic Diocese of El Paso, have additionally been serving to, however the distribution of provides has been gradual due to a dearth of personnel.

Miriam Jordan contributed reporting from Los Angeles, and Michael Crowley from Washington.