The first group of Afghan refugees arrived overnight in New Jersey, officials said Wednesday, and were due to get medical screenings and other support at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
The Department of Defense, through the U.S. Northern Command and U.S. Army North, will temporarily house the Afghan evacuees at the base as well as at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Lee, Virginia.
More Afghans were expected to arrive throughout the day in New Jersey, according to Derek VanHorn, spokesman for Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Pictures posted by defense and military officials on Wednesday show service members in New Jersey preparing for the arrivals. Some of the pictures show bins of bed linen and blankets, while others show service members working on temporary infrastructure such as erecting barriers in areas of the base.
Administration officials said earlier this week during a conference call that the four bases could potentially house up to 25,000 refugees.
The mass evacuations from Afghanistan started earlier this month when the Taliban took control of the country’s government. The United States has helped to evacuate more than 80,000 people since Aug. 14, including U.S. citizens and green card holders. Biden administration officials called the evacuation one of the “biggest airlifts in world history.”
Refugees have also gone to Germany, Italy, Qatar
Some Afghan evacuees have been sent to third-party countries, including Germany and Italy as well as Qatar, which have agreed to serve as transit hubs while the refugees undergo security screenings. The screenings, conducted by U.S. intelligence, law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, will include biometric and biographic checks before the refugees are allowed to enter the U.S., administration officials said.
Some of the refugees arriving at the bases in the U.S. are Afghans who have applied for the Special Immigrant Visa program available to people who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces and helped with translation, interpretation, security, cultural advice and intelligence during the military’s two decades in the country.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, approximately 77,000 Afghans have relocated to the U.S. through that visa program in the past 15 years. The institute estimated that 18,000 Afghans, along with 53,000 of their family members, were still waiting for their applications to be processed and completed.
All will be tested for COVID-19
Administration officials said that everyone arriving from Afghanistan into the U.S. will be tested for COVID-19, with the aim to get them vaccinated. Refugees who are sent to military installations will be given medical screenings and other health care services, as well as receive help to apply for work authorization. They will also be paired with refugee resettlement organizations that will help them find a place to live as they begin their lives in the U.S.
Alison Millan, deputy director of the International Rescue Committee in New Jersey, said over the past 20 years, her organization has resettled 382 Afghan refugees and Special Immigrant Visa holders. Since July, she said, 17 Afghans have been resettled in New Jersey.
“We have been so heartened by the outpouring of support to welcome Afghans arriving in our community,’’ Millan said Wednesday. “IRC in NJ is working with a wide range of local partners to coordinate these welcoming efforts that help families who have left their entire lives behind to begin anew.’’
Inquiries on how to support local refugee families can be directed to NewJersey@rescue.org.