Military police move past Afghan refugees in Wisconsin’s Ft. McCoy Army bases in September.
Barbara Davidson via Getty Images

Afghan refugees who have been relocated to military bases in the United States say they don’t have supplies for the upcoming winter and don’t know how much longer they will have to wait for permanent homes.

In the U.S., there is the largest Afghan refugee population. Fort McCoy (Wisconsin), a vast base currently housing 13,000 refugees. HuffPost was told by several of the refugees who were there. that they don’t have winter clothes such as jackets or gloves, even as temperatures have steadily dropped. Some said they have been on the base for months, and they have no clarity about when they’ll be able to leave.

The conditions at Fort McCoy are just one example of what critics say is the Biden administration’s lack of preparedness when it comes to Afghan refugees. Around 70,000 Afghans have arrived in America since August 17, during an unorganized and partial evacuation. Tens of thousands Afghan nationals, who worked for the U.S., were left behind.

About 50,000 evacuees remainIn immigration limbo at military bases and thePentagon says 44% Afghan refugees were at U.S. base were childrenSince October

According to refugee resettlement and volunteering groups, they feel overwhelmed and short of staff. The government does not seem to be able to provide a transition strategy for these people to the United States.

“There was never a plan because it was so chaotic from the beginning, and there are so many unknowns,” said Spojmie Ahmady Nasiri, a California-based immigration attorney who has visited five of the eight bases where Afghans are currently being housed. “You’re trying to put out the fires as you’re going along and in the process, many people are suffering.”

Only a limited amount of warm clothing and medical care available

Fort McCoy in Madison is expected to see more Afghans within the next few weeks. It’s an active military bases located about 105 miles northwest from Madison. This base houses also 1,600 members of the militaryThere are 900 volunteers who help to provide food, security and medical care.

A 25-year old Afghan student at Fort McCoy said that she came to Fort McCoy after having left her Afghan family. She said she only had the clothes she was wearing and wasn’t given new ones for more than a month. When she was able to get new clean clothing in October, her options were limited to T-shirts and shorts ― even as temperatures plunged in Wisconsin.

HuffPost spoke to three Afghan women who said the clothing program — headed up by Team Rubicon, a nongovernment organization specializing in disaster response that the Department of Defense tasked with providing clothes to the base — was chaotic and disorganized. Three women spoke out to fear retribution and asked for anonymity.

An Afghan refugee looks for shoes at the donation center.
Afghan refugee searches for shoes at the center.
Barbara Davidson via Getty Images

According to the women, they were given less time than twenty minutes for them to sort through boxes of clothes and shoes. They could only keep a few items. Refugees claimed they grabbed everything they could because of panic and lack of time. Fearing they might miss the winter clothing, people pushed and shoved one another. They said many went home with clothes and shoes that didn’t fit or weren’t appropriate for the season.

“It really was a problem,” said the 25-year-old, who ended up giving away most of her clothes to other women because they didn’t fit. “It’s getting colder. We didn’t have this cold back home in Afghanistan. … We didn’t get any winter jackets. The shoes that we got didn’t fit us because we were in a rush. It’s the same with other girls.”

A second Afghan woman said she went to the distribution center twice in October but wasn’t able to get warm clothing. She said that she was suffering stomach pains and fell ill, so she had to wait in line for several hours before she saw a doctor.

She complained about the military staff and was told that some soldiers responded quickly.

“I felt like I was a beggar,” she said.

HuffPost heard from a third woman who said she turned to outside help due to difficulties in obtaining warm clothing. A Canadian aunt began sending her clothes by mail.

“We haven’t really seen a coordinated plan from the administration on how to get Afghan allies and other vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan and into the U.S.”

– Sunil Varghese, policy director at IRAP

Team Rubicon did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment. A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson told HuffPost that the task force in charge of the distribution “has successfully provided an appropriately sized coat to every Afghan evacuee on base.”

It has also been 22 confirmed measles casesRefugees were at high risk at this base. The DHS spokesperson said there have not been any active cases since early October and that “more than 70,000 Afghan evacuees received age-appropriate vaccinations, including Measles, Mumps, and Rubella as a condition of their humanitarian parole.”

However, the refugee base says that access to proper medical care and halal foods, as well as culturally sensitive clothing and proper dental care, is still an issue.

Chaos From Evacuation To Resettlement

According to advocates, some bases are better equipped than others for handling the flood of refugees. There are however some common issues due to the disorganized and hasty evacuation.

“These individuals have endured extraordinary difficulties from the minute they tried to get into the airport to get into the lilypads to get into the havens,” Nasiri said. “There’s a lot of trauma. There’s a lot of distrust and a lot of uncertainties.”

International Refugee Assistance Project released by InterAction, Human Rights First and InterAction. report on Wednesday that recommended There are ways that the Biden administration can provide additional pathways to Afghanistan and other refugee countries, along with how they will get them settled in the U.S. faster. Advocates say that tens of thousands of Afghans have not been granted permission to evacuate and are still waiting for next steps. This is due to the fact that many of these vulnerable people are still waiting for their applications.

They say President Joe Biden’s administration could establish a screening process for at-risk Afghans in a third country, accept alternate methods of identity verification for those who fled without their documents, and increase resources to allow for faster consular and refugee processing.

“We haven’t really seen a coordinated plan from the administration on how to get Afghan allies and other vulnerable Afghans out of Afghanistan and into the U.S., especially those who are eligible for humanitarian pathways in the U.S.,” said Sunil Varghese, the policy director at IRAP.

White House defendedThe withdrawal of Afghanistan from the United States was completed in April 2008.

Refugees disembark from a U.S. Air Force aircraft after an evacuation flight from Kabul at the Rota naval base in Spain on Aug. 31.
Following an evacuation flight from Kabul to the Rota naval bases in Spain, refugees board a U.S. Air Force plane.
Getty Images: CRISTINA Quicler

Uncertainty persists after Afghans arrive in America.

A new program was announced by the Biden Administration last month. It would permit private citizens to be eligible for certain benefits. sponsor Afghan refugeesThey will also assist them with their basic needs during the first 90 days of being in the country. This is a job that has traditionally been done by resettlement organizations. This is a welcome move by Refugee Agencies, which was especially appreciated because many of these organizations are already overwhelmed and rebuilding their operations after years under President Donald Trump’s budget cuts.

“Unfortunately, the previous administration and dismantling of the program has really left resume agencies in sort of a bare-bones structure mode, a lot of us are functioning with less staff,” said Stacey Clack, the director of community sponsorship and engagement at Church World Service, a faith-based resettlement agency.

DHS says that over 22,000 Afghan nationals and U.S citizens who fled Afghanistan have now been relocated to long-term housing. 16.500 were assigned by the resettlement agency. Nevertheless, approximately 50,000 evacueesNevertheless, the U.S. military bases are still present throughout the country.

“It’s been somewhat alarming to some of us how quickly we’ve been asked to scale up the program because we’re really concerned about client safeguarding,” Clack said. “We want to ensure our Afghan friends and allies that are coming, whether they’re families or individuals, have the proper support when they leave the bases and enter into communities”

The refugees who are still on bases say they have no clear timeline for when they’ll be able to leave. Families separated during the evacuation also don’t know when or how they will be reunited.

This problem has been made worse by the national housing shortage and the pandemic. According to advocates, the new influx of refugees meant that immigration was not able to keep pace with it.

“The Department of State as well as the resettlement agencies are actively working to expand housing capacity, as possible, and are connected to a wide range of national and local resources,” a department spokesperson said. “Capacity does exist in many communities around the country that do offer reasonable and available housing as well as strong services and, to the extent possible, individuals will be resettled in these areas. In general, temporary lodging is necessary for a period of time.”

HuffPost was told by HuffPost immigration and IRAP lawyers that they are concerned about refugees falling into bureaucratic limbo.

Afghan nationals may have to wait for years in order to be granted asylum status if they enter the U.S. as parole holders. There is currently more than 350,000 pending asylum casesMany of the above dates back to at least several decades.

Not everyone is eligible to receive permanent status under the refugee special immigrant visa, or SIV, processThis could be a long process, with nearly 18,000 applications still pending.

DHS stated earlier in the week that it will waive immigration-related feesUp to 70,000 Afghans will be granted asylum in the U.S. Advocates applauded the move but called on the administration to do more — including introducing the Afghan Adjustment Act, a bill that would give Afghans a roadmap to expeditiously become legal permanent residents.

To fill the gaps created by the government, both lawyers and the resettlement agency have relied on the support of the community. This has forced resettlement organizations to come up with creative solutions for reducing the amount of people wanting to help.

“It really is bringing people together faith communities are stepping up. Rotary Clubs are stepping up,” Clack said. “Groups like book clubs and yoga clubs. Community members from all different ends are really stepping up to say, we want to be part of this welcome.”


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