The commander of the North American Air Force, General Glenn Vanheurk, said on Friday that eight US military bases are working to accommodate an estimated 50,000 Afghan refugees.
More than 25,600 Afghans have arrived in the United States so far, Van Herk told reporters at the Pentagon via satellite video, including a mix of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) applicants and asylum seekers.
But with the current capacity to house only 36,000 people across all facilities, “we are working to increase the capacity to at least 50,000,” he said.
He noted that it was unlikely that the military would have to use additional bases to house people.
While awaiting visa processing or resettlement, Afghans receive housing, food, medical care, and other services in Fort Lee, Virginia; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, NJ Joint Base; Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico; Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia; Fort Becket, Virginia; and Camp Atterbury, Indiana.
Fort McCoy has the largest population of around 9,000 people while Camp Atterbury has just over 60 people.
VanHerck said the majority of applicants for SIV will be sent to Fort Lee, where they will go through the final steps of earning visas and clear health checks.
Other bases have mainly hosted Afghan asylum seekers and need more security screening for resettlement.
Of the Afghans who have already entered the country, about 1,000 have moved from resettlement bases, Van Herk said.
He did not say how long it took for the evacuees to be processed, or how long Northcom expected to house people at the bases. Vanheurk acknowledged that there were problems because the facilities had problems with language, culture, sanitation and other issues.
To solve these problems, some bases are creating “mayor cells” led by service personnel and their Afghan counterparts to deliver what everyone needs. Leaders work in the same way as mayors and are responsible for various dwellings or condominiums.
“We have cultural differences, and these are the things we are working on, to educate Afghans and our people about the challenges we face from a cultural perspective,” Vanirk said.
In addition, Northcom has asked the Pentagon for additional linguists to speak with Afghans.
“I am building eight small cities. We will face challenges just like you all across the country in different locations,” Vanhork said.
He noted that all Afghans are being tested for COVID-19, whether at Dulles International Airport outside Washington, D.C., or upon arrival at a military facility.
Once on base, families are housed together during treatment, with people traveling alone separated by gender.
Meanwhile, a couple of unaccompanied children are staying at a Department of Health and Human Services facility near Dallas as officials are working to reunite them with their families.
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