San Francisco Chronicle - (Sunday)

U.S. gives public look inside base housing refugees

- By Farnoush Amiri Farnoush Amiri is an Associated Press writer.

FORT BLISS, Texas — The Biden administra­tion provided the first public look inside a U.S. military base where Afghans evacuated from their home country are being screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them.

“Every Afghan who is here with us has endured a harrowing journey and they are now faced with the very real challenges of acclimatin­g with life in the United States,” Liz Gracon, a senior State Department official, told reporters.

The three-hour tour Friday at Fort Bliss Army base, which straddles the TexasNew Mexico line, was the first time the media has been granted broad access to one of the eight U.S. military installati­ons housing Afghans.

Reporters were not allowed to talk with any evacuees or spend more than a few minutes in areas where they were gathered, with military officials citing “privacy concerns.”

Nearly 10,000 Afghan evacuees are staying at the base while they undergo medical and security checks before being resettled in the United States.

On Friday, Afghan children with soccer balls and basketball­s played outside large white tents. Families walked down a dirt driveway with stacks of plastic food containers holding traditiona­l Afghan meals of basmati rice and hearty stew.

The U.S. government spent two weeks building what it calls a village to house the Afghans on the base. It is a

Tents are set up at Fort Bliss, which straddles the Texas-New Mexico line, where refugees who evacuated from Afghanista­n are being housed while they are screened for resettleme­nt.

sprawling area with scores of air-conditione­d tents used as dormitorie­s and dining halls on scrubby dirt lots.

Under the program called “Operation Allies Welcome,” some 50,000 Afghans are expected to be admitted to the United States, including translator­s, drivers and others who helped the U.S. military during the 20-year war and who feared reprisals by the Taliban

after they quickly seized power last month.

Nearly 130,000 were airlifted out of Afghanista­n in one of the largest mass evacuation­s in U.S. history. Many of those people are still in transit, undergoing security vetting and screening in other countries, including Germany, Spain, Kuwait and Qatar.

After they are released from the base, they will be

aided by resettleme­nt agencies in charge of placing the refugees. The agencies give priority to places where the refugees either have family already in the United States or there are Afghan immigrant communitie­s with the resources to help them start a new life in a foreign land.

 ?? David Goldman / Associated Press ??
David Goldman / Associated Press

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