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U.S. closes first temporary housing site for Afghan evacuees as resettlement accelerates

Kids orphaned by Kabul bombing settle in U.S.
Kids orphaned by Kabul bombing start life in the U.S. 02:07

The Biden administration on Wednesday announced it stopped housing evacuated Afghans at one of the military sites that has accommodated them since the summer, citing the increased pace of their resettlement within the U.S. 

The last group of Afghan families housed at Fort Lee, Virginia, left the U.S. Army post on Wednesday to be resettled in communities across the country, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) said.

More than 25,000 Afghans relocated to the U.S. following the Taliban's conquest of their homeland have departed domestic military installations to start new lives in America with the help of resettlement groups, the latest DHS figures show. 

As of Wednesday, 45,000 evacuees from Afghanistan remained at the other temporary housing sites at seven military installations in Indiana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin. 

"This historic milestone highlights the ongoing commitment and perseverance we have witnessed to safely welcome our Afghan allies to the United States through a whole-of-society effort," said Robert Fenton, the DHS official overseeing the department's role in the government's efforts to resettle Afghans. 

The U.S. government has not provided a firm deadline for when it wants to relocate all evacuees from the bases, but DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas told Congress Tuesday the administration is aiming to complete the resettlement operation between December and February.

Krish O'Mara Vignarajah, president of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, said there needs to be a "balance" between making sure families are relocated as quickly as possible, while ensuring they have places to call home.

"We've seen housing challenges, so our concern is making sure that they don't get moved off the military bases and end up homeless," Vignarajah told CBS News. "We're equally concerned that the families have warm shelter if they are remaining on the military bases."

Fort Lee was the first U.S. military installation selected to host Afghan evacuees. In late July, it began housing Afghans with pending special immigrant visa applications who were evacuated due to their assistance to U.S. military forces.

Nongovernmental organizations hold an employment workshop for Afghan evacuees at Fort Lee, Virginia, on November 10, 2021. U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew Lumagui / 14th Public Affairs Detachment

The makeshift housing installations have allowed the U.S. government to ensure Afghan evacuees can be medically screened and vaccinated against the coronavirus, measles and other communicable diseases before being resettled. Evacuees have also been able to file work permit and immigration petitions at the sites.

Nine national refugee resettlement groups and their 200 local affiliates have been working to resettle Afghan families who depart the military sites, helping them secure affordable housing, jobs, basic necessities and government benefits.

The Biden administration last month also set up a first-of-its-kind program that will allow groups of private U.S. citizens to sponsor and help resettle Afghan evacuees, if they raise enough funds. The program is still accepting and reviewing applications.

Since the summer, U.S. officials have brought more than 73,000 Afghans to the country, including those who aided the American war effort, family members of U.S. citizens and permanent residents and others determined to be at risk in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan, like journalists and activists.

Before arriving in the U.S., the evacuees underwent background and security checks at overseas military bases. As of November 15, 2,600 evacuees remained at bases in the Middle East and Europe, according to DHS data. 

Earlier this week, the State Department announced temporary limits on the admissions of refugees who don't qualify for certain exceptions — a move designed to alleviate the pressure on the resettlement groups focused on assisting Afghans.

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