Wisconsin Army post visit reveals grateful, bored Afghans
FORT MCCOY, Wis. (AP) – On Thursday, reporters got a glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees at a Wisconsin army post, watched the new arrivals play football with soldiers and bring supplies to the barracks where they are housed as they wait for their new life in America to truly begin.
The U.S. Army and State Department led a group of reporters on a tightly controlled tour of Fort McCoy, a training station about 241 kilometers northwest of Milwaukee.
The fort is one of eight military installations across the country that temporarily house the tens of thousands of Afghans who were forced to flee their homeland in August after the United States withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the the Taliban took control. Nearly 13,000 were sent to Fort McCoy, where they acclimatized to the United States and underwent background checks before federal officials helped them move to more permanent homes.
Questions about conditions at the post have come to the fore in recent weeks, with U.S. Democratic Representatives Gwen Moore and Ilhan Omar calling for an investigation after the Wisconsin State Journal reported that many Afghans had not received new clothes and had to endure long queues. For alimentation. Some Republicans, meanwhile, questioned whether the refugees were properly vetted after one was accused of having had sexual contact with a minor and another of assaulting his wife.
Officials took turns on Thursday to tell reporters that all was well at the station. They walked journalists between the rows of barracks housing the evacuees, stopping to watch a football game between Afghans and soldiers. Children were everywhere – Brig. General Christopher Norrie said they made up nearly half of the refugees at the fort – and they wore all kinds of clothing, from their native attire to flip flops, shorts and parkas.
Families put clothes on fences to dry them. The barracks have heating and hot water and the station offers eight self-service laundromats, but Norrie said washing and drying clothes at home is a bonding event for Afghans.
The sidewalks were covered with children’s chalk drawings. Journalists were allowed to briefly observe a class in which Afghans of all ages were learning to use English to buy something in a store.
Adults carried bags of food home from post office delicatessens. Groups of men watched the reporters pass from the barracks porches, while others watched through their windows. Groups of children were smiling and laughing as the entourage passed.
Authorities took the journalists to a clothing donation center filled with Afghan women choosing clothes for their children. A health clinic and one of the station’s four cafeterias were also available to the evacuees. The facility resembled a high school cafeteria, with rows of tables and chairs. The lunch starter was chicken curry with bananas, oranges and other fruits.
Military officials said the refugees have been divided into eight “neighborhoods” which each have their own mosque. The Milwaukee Islamic Society donated Korans, they said. Post chiefs have met weekly with the refugee leadership councils, Lt. Col. Joe Mickley said.
Evacuees don’t want to live as wards of the US government and instead want to contribute to society, he said.
“They all see themselves as the next American dream, which is possible,” Mickley said.
A handful of refugees who speak English and volunteered to speak to reporters under State Department supervision told harrowing stories of the plane leaving Kabul airport as the former regime took hold. collapsed.
Khwaga Ghani, a 30-year-old producer for National Public Radio, said she was building a life in Kabul. She had a house, a car, and a tight-knit group of friends. She had to leave everything behind when the Taliban took over, fleeing to the airport and spending two nights on the runway before she could catch a flight.
“I was making my living, my living for myself,” she said. “I had to leave everything behind so I could stay alive.”
She has registered for a journalism scholarship at the University of California at Berkley and is just waiting to be released. She said she felt safe in Fort McCoy – “I’m a grown girl, I can take care of myself,” she said – and that she has everything she needs, but that the boredom is intense.
Sameer Amini, 36, had been a program coordinator at the US Embassy. He said he, his wife and their two children, aged 5 and 2, had to brave a number of Taliban checkpoints to get to the airport. They arrived to find thousands of people on the slopes. They spent two days and two nights suffering from sunburn and freezing after dark, before they could get on the plane.
He has been offered a job as a State Department contractor in Arlington, Va., But until he and his family are allowed to leave Fort McCoy, they will have nothing to do, a- he declared.
“(The post) is comfortable. It’s not a home, but we have the resources we need, ”he said. “(But) waiting is boring.”