A U.S. Military Base Needs to Make 13,000 Afghan Evacuees Feel at Home

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No timeline for volunteer shortages and enduring rehabilitation stress efforts

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On Thursday, the US government allowed journalists into Fort McCoy for the first time, providing a curated and concise look into the life of the evacuees.

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Afghan adults, mostly men – some in traditional clothing, others in western attire – walked through grass inside a fenced perimeter or milled about streets running between barracks built decades ago. The children played football or Frisbee in the grassy fields. U.S. military police cops on the beat, waves from people sitting in barracks and takes to the streets like hell.

Sameer Amini once worked at the embassy in Kabul and had arrived in the US about a month ago with his wife and two children.

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“We have a place to sleep, we have toiletries, we have sanitation, medicine, food,” he said. “Obviously it’s not a house, but as a temporary home, as a transit zone, we have everything we’re saying we should have.”

In other buildings, children shred construction paper in an activity area, while others took English language lessons in a co-educational classroom. Older boys and young men carried plastic bags filled with boxed food to their family barracks.

Fort McCoy hosts the largest number of Afghans among the eight US military bases that are processing thousands of Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban takeover. Many of those in the base had served with the US military or diplomats and brought their families with them. Some had fought alongside US forces as soldiers of the Afghan National Army.

Despite the experience of US troops stationed in Afghanistan and Afghans working with Americans, there has been some cultural misunderstanding.

In August, soldiers at Fort McCoy and Afghan were confused and disturbed by the sanitation practices. Every toilet at the base was Western-style, with a seat and toilet paper. But many Afghans are accustomed to toilets that allow them to sit so that they do not have to physically touch the toilet. According to soldiers, aid workers and Afghans, in some cases Afghans relieved themselves from outside

Base officials said that rather than rebuild or build squat toilets, the Americans spoke to Afghans on the appropriateness and ubiquity of Western toilets. All the toilets at the base are western style.

In the early days of the resettlement effort, a contractor running the chow hall served shrimp for a meal, an unfamiliar food for many Afghans. Army officials said, they did not eat it.

Afghans at the base complained of hours-long lines for food before officials streamlined the process with color-coded wristbands and food cards to ensure people didn’t line up multiple times, according to Aadhaar officials. and collecting food.

Feedback came from individual Afghans contacting soldiers to voice complaints, but also through formal meetings of shuras, or elders representing the community. According to base officials, senior US Army officers with experience in the Afghanistan War were appointed mayors to help resolve some of the issues and make changes.

Shrimp disappeared, as did American rice, being replaced for basmati rice. New spices, hummus and dates were added to the menu at Chow Hall. According to Colonel Jennifer McDonough, everything is certified Halal.

Base leadership erected clothes lines near buildings for Afghans who wanted to hand wash their laundry, many of them after they arrived with nothing more than the clothes they wore. Base officials said not all evacuees have gone to a clothing-donation centre, a process that involves transporting them from base to warehouses.

According to base officials and Afghans, as the Wisconsin winter draws closer, there is no timeline for when the evacuation paperwork will be done and when they will be rehabilitated. Much of this is outside the purview of the military rather than the state and homeland security departments.

“We don’t know exactly like how long it will take, nobody has an answer,” said Nasser Ahmed, a US military interpreter awaiting his final process for visas and work permits.

According to soldiers in the warehouse, some Afghans hope to complete paperwork and leave the base before cold weather arrives and have refused to accept winter boots from the donation center. Soldiers, just to be safe, have pushed the evacuation to take off the boots.

At Fort Pickett in Virginia, Abdul, who worked for the U.S. Embassy and asked to withdraw his full name for security reasons, says his wife recently gave birth to their third child, and Virginia base officials have been unable to provide. them with a bassinet.

He said that America also lost its belongings. As a result, the family was forced to wear the same clothes for weeks. When his wife gave birth about 10 days ago, the family reached the hospital and brought a cloth bag for the family. They said they could not deliver the clothes to the base as there was no way to get individual delivery, he said.

While Abdul has asked to leave the base and live with relatives in California, officials are refusing to let him go until the family can be formally resettled, a process Abdul is told. , it may take weeks or even months.

“We are happy,” he said, “we are patient.”

The Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but US officials have previously said Afghans would have to give up federal benefits if they left early.

A further logistical hurdle is that the military effort works closely with aid groups such as the American Red Cross, which ceased operations on 30 September.

The resettlement effort is led by the Department of Homeland Security, but the military is responsible in large part for providing federal manpower and logistics.

While the federal government provided housing and food, the American Red Cross received a substantial amount of clothing, toiletries and other aid, leaving the government to meet staff shortages and supply shortages at bases across the country, The effort and internal DHS emails were reviewed by the Wall Street Journal, according to people familiar with the matter.

At Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, the local DHS coordinator said in an email a few days before the Red Cross was preparing to leave, “We are unaware of who will take steps to cover their 24/7 response to 80 employees.”

“Anything that involves providing for the well-being and safety of Afghan citizens, we make sure that is provided for,” a DHS spokesman said in an interview. Donations from the public and outside groups helped with the effort. The spokesperson said the rehabilitation effort involves “the view of the whole government and the whole of society”.

Volunteer group Save Our Allies in Fort McCoy backfills many Red Cross celebrations. Another volunteer group, Team Rubicon, has been and will be a part of this effort since its early days.

The federal government requested hundreds of volunteers to take over the Red Cross effort, which has provided nearly 800 aid workers since the mission’s beginning.

“The purpose of this temporary support was to be a bridge that provides immediate care for families with long-term, continued support for evacuees,” Red Cross spokeswoman Janelle Ely said in an email.

write to Ben Kesling at [email protected]

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