by Todd Richmond
FORT MCOY, Wis. (AP) — Journalists at the Wisconsin Army Post were given a glimpse into the lives of Afghan refugees Thursday, watching new arrivals play football with soldiers and carrying groceries to barracks, where they being kept. Wait for his new life in America to really begin.
The US Army and State Department led a group of journalists on a tightly controlled tour of Fort McCoy, a training post about 150 miles (241 kilometers) northwest of Milwaukee.
The fort is one of eight military installations across the country that are temporarily housing thousands of Afghans who were forced to flee their homeland in August after the US withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and took control of the Taliban. had gone. About 13,000 are sent to Fort McCoy, where they are adapting to the US and undergoing background checks before federal officials help them move to more permanent homes.
Questions have emerged in recent weeks about positions on the Post with Democratic US Reps. Gwen Moore and Ilhan Omar called in for an investigation after the Wisconsin State Journal reported that many Afghans had not received new clothes and faced long lines for food. Meanwhile, some Republicans questioned whether one of the refugees was accused of having sexual contact with a minor and the other of assaulting his wife.
The officials told reporters in turn on Thursday that all was well at the post. They walked past reporters between rows of barracks, stopping to watch a pickup football game between Afghans and soldiers. Children were everywhere – brigadiers. General Christopher Norie said they are about half the refugees in the fort – and have dressed all in their basics, from flip-flops, shorts and parkas.
Families put clothes on the fence to dry. The barracks have heat and hot water and there are eight self-serve laundromats in the post, but Norie said washing and drying clothes at home is a bonding event for Afghans.
The sidewalks were covered with chalk paintings of children. Journalists were allowed to briefly observe a class in which Afghans of all ages were learning how to use English to buy something at a store.
The adults took the bags of food home from the delis’ posts. The group of men watched journalists walk through the barracks’ porch, while others watched from their windows. Groups of children smiled and laughed as they entered.
Officers took reporters through a clothing donation center in which Afghan women were selecting things for their children to wear. Also on tour was a health clinic and one of the post’s four cafeterias that are available for evacuation. The facility resembled a high school cafeteria with rows of tables and chairs. Lunch was chicken curry with bananas, oranges and other fruits.
Military officials said the refugees are divided into eight “neighborhoods”, each with its own mosque. He said the Islamic Society of Milwaukee donated the Quran. Lt Col Joe Mickle said postal leaders have been holding weekly meetings with refugee leadership councils.
He said the evicted people do not want to live as wards of the US government and instead want to contribute to society.
“They all see themselves as the next American dream, which is possible,” Mickle said.
A handful of refugees, who speak English and voluntarily speak to reporters under the watch of the State Department, told painful stories about flying out of Kabul’s airport as the old regime collapsed.
National Public Radio producer Khawaga Ghani, 30, said she is producing A Life in Kabul. He had a house, a car and a bunch of friends. When the Taliban took power, it had to leave it all behind, fleeing to the airport and spending two nights on the runway before taking off.
“I was making a living, a living for myself,” she said. “I had to leave everything behind so that I could be alive.”
She has started a journalism fellowship at the University of California-Berkeley and is just waiting to be released. She said she felt safe in Fort McCoy — “I’m a grown-up 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, was the program coordinator at the US Embassy. He said that he, his wife and their two children, aged 5 and 2, had to cross several Taliban checkpoints to reach the airport. They arrived on the runway to find thousands of people. Before boarding the plane, he spent two days and two nights, night after night suffering from sunburn and cold.
He has been offered a job as a State Department contractor in Arlington, Virginia, but will have nothing to do until he and his family are allowed to leave Fort McCoy, he said.
“(Post) is comfortable. It’s not home, but we have the resources we need.” “(But) just waiting is boring.”