Evacuated Afghans arrive in NJ; more expected as violence erupts
The first group of Afghans brought to the United States arrived Tuesday night at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst as part of Operation Allies Refuge.
More people are expected to arrive in New Jersey as violence continues to unfold during the U.S. pullout from the war-torn country.
Joint Base Public affairs spokesman Derek VanHorn did not provide an exact number of Afghans who are at the base but said it's an ongoing process.
President Joe Biden said all Americans currently in Afghanistan will be brought out of the country by August 31. More than 82,000 people have been evacuated from the country since August 14 in one of the biggest U.S. airlifts in history
Military officials proposed setting up enough shelter at the Joint Base for up to 9,500 Afghan nationals for up to a year.
"I can't give you exact numbers other than to say we've had a few waves come in and we're expecting more," VanHorn said.
He said they could stay on the Joint Base for up to a year but a final plan for their next step was still being developed.
Gov. Phil Murphy on Monday said he expected that most of those arriving at the Joint Base would eventually wind up Virginia or California, where there are large Afghan populations.
"That's not to say we won't raise our hand and do our fair share if they want to stay in the great Garden State. We'll do everything we can to make that work for them and for us," Murphy said.
VanHorn said the Department of Defense would work to provide "culturally appropriate food, water, bedding, religious services, recreational activities."
According to a military report obtained by the Cherry Hill Courier-Post, those who stay at the base will be housed at a "tent city" to be built on a 24.6 acre parade ground located in Burlington County.
VanHorn referred a question about COVID screenings and vaccinations to the State Department, which said that given the circumstances in Afghanistan a blanket humanitarian exemption was granted for pre-departure COVID testing.
Upon their arrival the refugees receive a full medical screening that includes a COVID-19 test.
"Department of Defense personnel supporting the operation will take maximum precautions prescribed by the CDC and base leadership. While in the United States, vulnerable Afghans will be encouraged to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for COVID mitigation," VanHorn said.
Masks are required to be worn inside buildings on the base regardless of vaccination status.
The Afghans are also being flown to Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Bliss, Texas; and Fort Lee, Virginia.
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