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Inside Operation Allies Refuge-PHL: How Philadelphia International Airport Transformed Into Welcome Center For Afghan Refugees

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) -- Hundreds of evacuees from Afghanistan are arriving in Philadelphia. On Saturday night, a large terminal in Philadelphia International Airport has been transformed into a makeshift welcome center for those fleeing violence.

CBS3 received a walkthrough of Terminal A East on Saturday night to see how the process works when Afghan refugees land here at Philadelphia International Airport.

The refugees first enter the international arrivals hall and then go through Customs and Border Protection while being accompanied by TSA and the Department of Homeland Security.

So far over 200 evacuees have landed at Philadelphia International Airport, and hundreds more are expected to arrive in the coming days.

Officials say upwards of 75 to 100 agencies, including the Red Cross, Salvation Army and Wawa, are taking part in helping resettle the Afghan refugees. It's called Operation Allies Refuge - PHL.

Volunteers have been at the airport for hours setting up culturally appropriate food, supplies and hygiene products. The baggage claim area has been transformed into a COVID-19 testing and vaccination site, in addition to a medical triage section.

In addition to COVID-19 safety, there is also a space for prayer and religious activities.

"A lot of people are supporting this mission and I can tell you that I was here for the very first folks to walk down from the arrival's hall and I'm not afraid to say it's one of the most humbling experiences of my 30-year career," Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said, "and we had a lot of 'I'm not crying, you're crying' moments. Just an absolute all hands on deck effort here, it's an honor to be a part of it."

The Office of Emergency Management anticipates they may be there for another couple of weeks.

After refugees are processed, transportation to their final destination is being arranged by the Department of Homeland Security and Defense.

To sign up as a translator for Afghan refugees, click here and select "Philadelphia MRC" during the process. Click here for other ways to help.

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