EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Soldiers at Fort Bliss are busy breaking ground on the expansion of the Doña Ana Housing Area near Fort Bliss that will provide temporary housing to Afghan refugees in support of Operation Allies Refuge.
The initiative is part of the country’s commitment to the many Afghans who helped the U.S.
On Wednesday, Congresswoman Veronica Escobar toured the facilities and also met with the Afghan refugees and soldiers.
Here’s everything we know (so far).
How many people have been evacuated from Afghanistan?
The Congresswoman said that as of Wednesday, about 90,000 people have been flown out of Afghanistan to safety.
Who are the refugees at the Fort Bliss facilities?
The Congresswoman said she met with Afghan families, mothers and infants, and elders. “Every single soldier told me what a privilege it is to care for these families,” she said. Escobar says that many soldiers told her that morale is high on the grounds of the facilities.
Many of the Afghans being persecuted by the Taliban worked with or on behalf of the U.S. government and its contractors but not all of them.
Escobar said she met with an interpreter who fled with his wife, but still longs to be reunited with his family. “He’s worried about the family that’s left behind,” said Escobar, “family members that did not work for the government: they did not work alongside our American servicemembers.”
How do we know these refugees are being thoroughly vetted?
The Afghans receiving Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) and being evacuated have a history of employment with or on behalf of the U.S.government. The SIV application requires an extensive work history that includes proof of work with U.S. entities, a letter of recommendation, and more.
“Every person who gets on one of those planes has been vetted by the U.S. government,” said Escobar.
What does the COVID-19 situation look like among the refugee population?
Out of about 1200 Afghan refugees, Escobar said there had been only one confirmed case of COVID-19 and that the person was in isolation.
She added that the refugees are being tested for COVID-19 at multiple points during their journey, including upon arrival at Dulles Airport outside of Washington, D.C.
How many unaccompanied Afghan children are at Fort Bliss?
Escobar said that she did not believe there to be any unaccompanied Afghan minors, but would confirm.
Are there organizations assisting at Fort Bliss?
Escobar confirmed that the American Red Cross and other nonprofits are working on the ground on base to help care for the refugees.
“The American Red Cross has been really — really — remarkable,” said Escobar. “They’re working to get tablets and phones so that Afghan families can connect internationally with those left behind,” she added.
Can I volunteer?
Yes. The American Red Cross (ARC) is seeking volunteers, specifically those with language skills, reports the 1st Armored Division.
The 1st Armored Division is also assembling resources for those interested in donating.
The Armed Services YMCA El Paso is assisting the process. The ASYMCA is collecting donations through an Amazon Wishlist. Items needed are adult, children’s, and infant clothing, hijabs, pants, jackets, and underwear; footwear; balls and games, and more.
Volunteers are also needed to help the ASYMCA. To learn more, email BRamirez@asymca.org
Are there job opportunities available?
Also, yes. The International Rescue Committee posted open positions for interpreters and SIV cohort assistants in El Paso.
The roles are full-time that last for two-week intervals at a time and pay $16.
How is Escobar’s office contributing?
The Congresswoman said her staff continues to work around the clock on casework ahead of the August 31st deadline for U.S. forces to withdraw.
“I shared with them that if there’s any Afghan guests on our lists that need casework, we stand ready to help support. My office has received dozens and dozens of calls, not just from El Paso constituents but also from folks across the country,” she said.
“They’ve been working diligently to try to make sure that we do everything possible to help get as many folks out as possible.”
Who is to blame for this crisis?
Escobar says that she believes there needs to be a serious look at the past two decades to determine missteps and mistakes that were made. She says she expects a number of Congressional hearings to take place to determine how to avoid this from happening again.