With the collapse of Afghanistan, thousands of Afghan refugees have been moved to the United States and placed on eight military bases while awaiting the decision on their fate. In total, there are about 53,000 Afghan refugees on bases across the United States, and on some bases, they face significant difficulties.
On Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, the refugees are facing a lack of food, clothing, and heat. The cool fall nights make it more uncomfortable for the refugees. Fort McCoy can handle up to 13,000 refugees; right now, it has about 12,500.
There have been reports of Afghans waiting in line for six hours for food only to eventually find out that there is no more food available. There is also a lack of clean clothes. One of the refugees told a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal that she is still wearing the same clothes she had on when she left Kabul’s airport, including the same set of underwear.
Afghan men housed at the base have also been part of the problem. Many of them are former members of the U.S.-trained Afghan National Army and have been harassing women and skipping people in the food lines.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is reportedly aware of the problems; he has ordered the Pentagon to work to alleviate them.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby spoke to the news media about the issue on Wednesday.
“We’re certainly aware of these reports […] and we take [them] very, very seriously,” Kirby said. However, he didn’t offer any details on how the Pentagon will address the situation.
Kirby added that the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM), which oversees the bases that house the Afghans “is very mindful of the needs of the weather and the climate and making sure that the evacuees have a safe, clean, warm living environment while [we] continue [their] processing.”
“We’re mindful about this at all eight installations here domestically, that we have a responsibility to provide that kind of environment for these individuals and their families,” Kirby said.
Kirby also added that Secretary Austin is confident that Air Force General Glen VanHerck, the commander of NORTHCOM “also is mindful of these issues and will continue to work closely with our interagency partners to alleviate any concerns there might be.”
There is no definitive timeline for the refugees, as it could take anywhere from two to six months to get them resettled outside the base. The Department of Homeland Security said that the resettlement process will be different for every person but did not give any more insight into what the refugees might expect moving forward.
“I’m not saying I’m not glad I got out of there. I’m saying I’m very happy. I’m very glad I got out of there,” one 18-year-old said to the Wisconsin State Journal of fleeing Afghanistan. “It’s just that I want to be processed out fast. I’m losing lots of my time. It’s a waste of time staying here [at Fort McCoy].”
Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Gwen Moore (D-WS) last week urged Austin to investigate claims of mistreatment of refugees after the report from the Wisconsin State Journal was released. Kirby said that as of now, there are no plans to conduct an investigation.