JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, New Jersey (Reuters) – It may very well be the completely satisfied moments, like news of the 24 infants born right here or final weekend’s marriage ceremony. Or perhaps it is discuss of the trauma amongst evacuees or the Afghans choosing by garments on folding tables after dropping completely all the things.
But there’s a sense that life’s occasions, in all of their complexity, are merely unfolding for the over 9,300 Afghan evacuees who’ve come to name this U.S. army base in New Jersey house over the previous month or so – and who could also be right here for a while.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is considered one of eight areas within the United States internet hosting tens of 1000’s of Afghans who fled aboard U.S. evacuation flights when the United States exited Afghanistan final month after dropping the struggle to the Taliban. Trying to make them really feel welcome, officers right here consult with the Afghans as their “friends.”
Signs of the swelling logistical challenges are in all places. Construction crews push piles of gravel round and are including to the already huge expanse of white tents housing evacuees. Clothes are draped throughout chain-link fences, presumably air-drying. Children are in all places.
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Perhaps unsurprisingly, unseen challenges are simply as daunting, notably within the space of psychological well being.
“Everybody right here has been by a traumatic expertise fleeing Afghanistan,” mentioned one U.S. army official, briefing U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin exterior a women-only dormitory.
Austin was visiting on Monday as Liberty Village celebrated a main milestone: Eleven Afghans from two households had been the primary to go away the bottom to be resettled contained in the United States.
It was a small step, and a signal of how a lot work lies forward.
“I do know this isn’t simple,” Austin mentioned, as he thanked U.S. personnel. “I do know we got here collectively … in a very brief time period. But you may have completed exceptional work.”
‘I’D LOVE TO BE A RESIDENT’
The Monday go to was the primary time reporters had been allowed into Liberty Village. The base has a historical past of aiding evacuees. In 1999, it obtained greater than 4,000 refugees fleeing the struggle in Kosovo.
When Afghans arrive, they’re given wristbands with distinctive identification numbers. Some had been fortunate sufficient to get locations in dormitories. Others are staying in large tents with solely fabric privateness boundaries separating households.
The neighborhood surrounding the bottom has donated all the things from faculty provides to toys and prayer rugs. But the size of donations initially overwhelmed army personnel.
As Liberty Village expanded, it started common purchases of provides and inspired well-wishers to shift to digital reward playing cards as an alternative of bodily donations for evacuees.
Not everybody received the memo. One native resident mentioned in a current city corridor occasion together with her congressman that she pulled into a assortment website with donations and noticed “heaps and numerous open baggage sitting on the market within the rain.”
“I now have containers and containers of issues that I bought that I might love to offer,” she mentioned.
How lengthy Liberty Village will exist is unclear. U.S. authorities officers have arrange makeshift places of work to fast-track paperwork for Afghans, shortening a generally years-long course of to weeks or months to permit their resettlement.
But it is clear Liberty Village is bracing for the chilly climate forward, with extra evacuees attributable to arrive from U.S. bases abroad.
Afghans listed below are additionally settling in. A gaggle of Afghan ladies arrange a magnificence salon at Liberty Village that helped get the bride prepared for the marriage final weekend.
Back in Afghanistan, viral movies circulated exhibiting magnificence parlors portray over pictures of girls because the Taliban retook management. During the Taliban’s 1996-2001 rule, they barred ladies from leaving house with out a male family member and shuttered colleges for women.
As Austin walked round Liberty Village throughout his Monday go to, he heard from two ladies who hoped to grow to be medical doctors within the United States. They beamed with optimism.
“I’d like to be a resident of America,” considered one of them mentioned.
“You can be,” Austin replied.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Mary Milliken and Karishma Singh)
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