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US A rare peek inside the Fort Bliss Afghan refugee camp, 'Doña Ana Village'

04:05  11 september  2021
04:05  11 september  2021 Source:   usatoday.com

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Fifteen days after the first flight of refugees landed at Biggs Airfield, a "village" has sprung up in the desert outside El Paso.

An austere Army camp built in the 1960s to house 1,800 soldiers in training has expanded into a campus of dormitories and dining halls, community centers and soccer fields, as well as religious and medical facilities supporting nearly 10,000 Afghan refugees, nearly a third of them children.

"Our goal here on Fort Bliss is to ensure the safety of the personnel in our care and expeditiously move them on to cities in the U.S.," Maj. Gen. Sean Bernabe said during a tour Friday.

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He described the refugee camp on the New Mexico side of the base as "Doña Ana Village," where the refugees are "guests."

a view of a beach: An aerial view of Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village in New Mexico is seen Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/Farnoush Amiri) © (AP Photo/Farnoush Amiri) An aerial view of Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village in New Mexico is seen Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/Farnoush Amiri)

The roughly two-hour Fort Bliss tour was the first media access provided by the Biden administration to one of eight military sites around the country hosting Afghan refugees. U.S. officials prohibited journalists from interviewing any of the refugees.

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White tent dormitories are set up to accommodate 100 people. Families are kept together, and there are curtain partitions inside the dorms to offer some privacy. Single men and women are in separate quarters.

They sleep on Army green cots and are provided packaged linens — a blanket, a pillow — and a hygiene kit. A massive amount of donations has arrived, and people can pick up clothes, shoes, sanitary items and prayer carpets donated by individuals and corporations.

Volunteers were unloading stacks of Amazon boxes on Friday. Afghan families lined up for lunch around noon at one of four dining halls — some days lamb or chicken, rice, vegetables and flatbread — under a canopy of military netting to create shade from a blazing sun.

Men and boys waited in shorts and T-shirts, while others wore the traditional shalwar kameez, a tunic over loose-fitting pants gathered at the waist. Mothers in colorful hijab headscarves left the dining hall balancing stacks of to-go containers, calling after children carrying cans of Coca-Cola.

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More than 65,000 people have fled Afghanistan as the U.S. ended its 20-year presence there in late August and the Taliban took over Kabul.

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Of them, 49,000 have landed at military sites around the country, while the rest are undergoing biographic and biometric security checks at "lily pad" sites in stopover countries.

The historic U.S. airlift from Kabul began weeks ago before ending on Aug. 31, and the first Afghan refugees began arriving at Fort Bliss on Aug. 21. The Department of Homeland Security, which is leading the inter-agency effort to support Afghan refugees, is calling its effort "Operation Allies Welcome."

A child holds up a piece of artwork while drawing in a tent at Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village, in New Mexico, where Afghan refugees are being housed, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/David Goldman) © AP Photo/David Goldman A child holds up a piece of artwork while drawing in a tent at Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village, in New Mexico, where Afghan refugees are being housed, Friday, Sept. 10, 2021. The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

At Fort Bliss, the resettlement process has already begun.

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A DHS official confirmed that 130 people have been cleared for "outprocessing." Other than U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents who are free to leave the camp and move about the country, no refugees have departed Fort Bliss yet. Those who are cleared to leave are now waiting for resettlement agencies to confirm their placement.

Many will look to go to regions with established Afghan communities, including Northern Virginia and California, the DHS official said.

The Afghans at the Fort Bliss camp aren't detained but their access to refugee benefits — including housing and other assistance — is conditioned on them remaining in the refugee program and awaiting placement by a resettlement agency, a State Department official said.

More: Kabul airlift, visualized: In 16 days, massive planes moved enough evacuees to fill a small city

A Department of Defense official said Fort Bliss has received 80 flights so far; more are on hold as the camp has reached capacity.

With basic needs being met, the Army is focused now on improving quality of life at the camp, the official said. Soldiers are trying to meet needs as they see them, playing soccer and volleyball with children.

Some refugees struck up a game of cricket, the official said.

Twice now, dance parties have erupted in the dining halls, the official said.

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Four babies have been born.

Lauren Villagran may be reached at lvillagran@elpasotimes.com.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: A rare peek inside the Fort Bliss Afghan refugee camp, 'Doña Ana Village'

‘No possible life’ under Taliban rule: Afghan women fear murder, oppression after US withdrawal .
"If the Taliban returns to power, I along with other women who work in the government will either be stoned to death or executed in public."These memories are invariably the stuff of nightmares.

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This is interesting!