US relocates all Afghan evacuees from military sites, completing first phase of resettlement
The Biden administration on Saturday moved the last group offrom a military site in New Jersey, completing the first phase of a historic six-month operation to resettle vulnerable Afghans following the abrupt collapse of the US-aligned government in Kabul.
As part of the largest U.S. resettlement effort in decades, the Biden administration has established a network of short-term housing centers at overseas military bases and across the United States in the summer. last to rapidly treat tens of thousands of Afghans deemed to be at risk. in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.
US officials used “lily pads” at overseas military sites to screen and treat Afghans airlifted from Kabul last summer, and set up eight temporary housing facilities called “safe havens” in national bases to vaccinate new arrivals against contagious diseases and complete their resettlement In treatment.
United Statesnational military processing sites as he worked with nonprofit resettlement agencies and private citizens’ groups to resettle Afghans in more than 200 communities across the country.
The other evacuees housed at Joint Base McGuire – Dix – Lakehurst, New Jersey – the latest of the safe havens to end operations – left the site on Saturday morning, joining 76,000 Afghans who have moved to their new communities in the United States , the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced.
Bob Fenton, a longtime Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) official who was tapped to oversee the interagency Afghan resettlement effort, called it the largest such government operation.
“I worked for FEMA for 25 years, going to disasters,” Fenton told CBS News. “This is by far the largest and most complex event I have been involved in since evacuating 85,000 more people from halfway around the world to 10 military bases in the Middle East and Europe. , then to eight bases here in the United States.”
Eight facilities at military sites in the United States provided evacuees with halal food, faith-based services, English classes, vaccination against coronavirus and other diseases like measles, assistance with immigration formalities and medical services, including for pregnant women and those who have been evacuated. .
National housing sites, which were established at Army bases, Air Force installations, National Guard stations and Marine Corps stations in six states, also provided recreation and some schooling to the children, who Fenton said made up about 40% of all evacuees.
“Think about running eight small towns,” Fenton said. “Everything that comes with a city, we had to provide for a population that was very vulnerable.”
Of more than 67,000 Afghans treated at national bases, more than half – or 35,128 evacuees – were resettled in Texas, California, Virginia, Washington, Pennsylvania, New York, Florida and Arizona, according to unpublished government statistics obtained by CBS News.
Colorado, Massachusetts, Maryland, Illinois, Oklahoma, Missouri, Michigan, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, Nebraska and Kentucky received 21,331 evacuees, resettling more than 1,000 each. On the other hand, South Dakota, Mississippi, West Virginia and Hawaii have all resettled 22 Afghans combined, while Wyoming is the only state not expected to receive evacuees.
“I think the biggest lesson the administration can take from this operation is that the American public is overwhelmingly supportive of immigrants and refugees being part of their communities,” said Ali Noorani, president of the National Immigration Forum. , to CBS News.
“The children are very happy here”
Ahmad Zaki Babakarkhil, who said he worked at a US military base in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover, lived at a treatment site in Fort Pickett, Va., alongside his wife and three children for several months after being flown out of Kabul last August and spending some time in Qatar and Germany.
The evacuated family is temporarily living in a northern Virginia apartment listed by Airbnb, which has a program in place to find short-term housing for Afghan evacuees. Babakarkhil said his family only left their temporary home a few times, mostly to run errands. But he said they felt a sense of freedom and security in Alexandria.
“The kids are very happy here,” Babakarkhil told CBS News through an interpreter. “In Afghanistan, the parents weren’t available for the kids. Every time they go out for a walk or play in the park, the kids say, ‘I wish we were there from the start.'”
Timothy Young, spokesman for the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, a faith-based group that resettles Babakarkhil and his family members, said a lease for permanent housing was recently signed, noting that the family should to be able to move in in the next few days. .
As soon as they can move in, Babakarkhil said he hopes to enroll the children in school and learn new skills to find jobs using a work permit provided by the US government.
But Babakarkhil said he was concerned about uncertainty over his family’s legal status.
Like most Afghan evacuees, Babakarkhil’s family entered the United States under a temporary humanitarian program known as parole, not through the asylum process, which takes years. Although it allows them to work and live legally in the United States, parole does not make evacuees eligible for permanent residency.
US officials have determined that some Afghans are eligible for permanent residency because they or their immediate family members helped the US war effort, but at least 36,000 evacuatedto permanent status, leaving them in limbo unless they qualify for asylum or Congress legalizes them.
Fenton, the DHS official coordinating the resettlement operation, urged Congress to pass the Afghan Adjustment Act, which would allow evacuees to directly apply for permanent residency, bypassing the asylum program, which has a backlog of 412,000 unresolved cases.
He called the Afghans brought to the United States last year “special”, noting that many of them worked alongside American forces during the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
“We, as Americans, need to help accept them, help them find their bearings and welcome them to the United States, because they have had a difficult journey and deserve our help, as they have helped us over the last decade,” says Fenton.
While national base evacuation sites have been demobilized, DHS officials said they are working to set up a non-military processing center in the United States for future Afghan arrivals. The United States also continues to house and treat 2,800 Afghans at bases in the United Arab Emirates andshow the latest DHS figures.
The United States has received more than 43,000 applications for humanitarian parole from Afghans in Afghanistan or third countries hoping to enter the country. U.S. authorities have ruled on fewer than 1,700 of those parole applications, denying 90% of them, according to data from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
“It is vital that the administration recognize that each of these 40,000 cases represents a life at risk or a family seeking reunification,” Krish O’Mara Vignarajah, chairman of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, told AFP. CBS News. “The administration must keep its word and act with urgency to address these requests.”