On Thursday, a congressional delegation consisting of Reps. Veronica Escobar (D-16), Marc Veasey (D-16) and Sylvia Garcia (D-29) visited Doña Ana Village at Fort Bliss, where thousands of Afghan refugees are housed.
Fort Bliss, which is located in El Paso, is one of eight military bases where a total of 53,000 Afghans have been housed since the Kabul evacuation. Just under 10,000 are living at Fort Bliss, which was one of the first installations to take in refugees after Afghanistan fell under Taliban control. Although the US withdrawal from Afghanistan was completed more than a month ago, most of these evacuees are still being processed and vetted at these bases before being moved to more permanent housing.
The three members of Congress painted an overall upbeat picture of the situation. The base is currently transitioning from emergency response to quality of life, with Escobar saying they had seen some “really wonderful quality of life amenities” at a press conference after the tour. The delegation cited a school and culturally-sensitive food as examples of such amenities.
“I want to thank all the 1,600 soldiers that have been involved in basically building a city,” said Garcia. “There was hardly one thing that we asked about that they were not doing and that’s remarkable.”
Escobar also pushed back against “irresponsible rhetoric and misinformation,” about the vetting, saying that military leaders had full faith in the process. The right has been stoking fears about refugees for some time, and an alleged assault of a Fort Bliss soldier by a small group of refugees added fuel to the flame. “I want to remind everybody that the case she’s talking about is one case, and there’s ten thousand people,” added Garcia.
The refugees are also being medically screened and being vaccinated for COVID as well as other diseases.
Resettling Afghan refugees will be a long-term process, with Escobar saying that the Doña Ana Village will probably be set up until Spring. Congress has allocated $6.3 billion to assist to help refugees transition from military installations to permanent homes and start a new life. Many of the refugees at Fort Bliss, about 30 percent of whom are children, fled with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. “The challenge now in terms of relocation is a lack of access to housing,” said Escobar.
“We have an obligation to treat people humanely and to welcome them,” concluded Escobar. “Whether they are from Central America, whether they are from Afghanistan, whether they are from Haiti, people must be treated with dignity and respect.