The United States has welcomed the first of 65,000 Afghan people Joe Biden hopes to resettle, with well-wishers bringing them books, toys and diapers to help them settle in.
Nearly 28,000 Afghanis and Afghani Americans have been evacuated since the Taliban took control of the country’s government last weekend, President Joe Biden said at a news conference n Sunday, including 11,000 just this past weekend.
Last week, the president said he wanted to rescue up to 15,000 Americans living in Afghanistan, as well as up to 65,000 refugees and people whose work with US forces made them eligible for a special interest visa (SIV).
Roughly 2,000 refugees have been relocated so far, a majority to Fort Lee, Virginia, according to the State Department, near where dozens of residents donated clothes, toiletries, diapers, baby formula, toys and books to the arriving families.
Several hundred touched down at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington D.C. on Friday, the Washington Post reports, and were shuttled overnight to the Northern Virginia Community College in Annadale, where the Fairfax County Office of Emergency Management set up more than 500 cots – provided by the college – in an event center, gymnasium and community rooms.
Some would stay for just a few hours before being relocated to their new homes at a base in Texas, while others may stay for a few days.
The first of the Afghan refugees have made it successfully out of their country
Nearly 28,000 Afghanis have been evacuated since the Taliban took control of the country’s government last weekend. These Afghanis are pictured touching down in Sicily en route to the US
Some arrived in Annandale, Virginia on Saturday, where dozens of volunteers provided them with clothes, diapers, toiletries and games
Others were brought to a Navy base in Italy, where they will wait for further relocation
Volunteers brought the refugees pizza, snack and water as they told their stories, which many of the volunteers could relate to, as they were also of Afghani descent.
One such volunteer was Salima Khan, 22, who said her parents were born in Afghanistan during the Soviet invasion and ultimately escaped when the Taliban took over the country the first time in the 1990s.
‘So I feel like I’m rewatching what they went through – but now with all of this support,’ she said. ‘They didn’t have that.’
‘We just want to hare their pain,’ added another man, who just gave his first name, Nasrul, out of fear for the safety of his siblings who are still in Afghanistan. ‘We are not in Afghanistan, but we are in sorrow.’
He said he decided to help out because he thought he might be able to get the refugees to relax, telling the Post: ‘At least these lives are safe now.’
But not everyone is.
Daryoush Amiri, a Fairfax resident, said his wife and two young kids flew to Kabul to visit other family last month, and were supposed to arrive home on August 16 ‘but it was canceled and then the government collapsed.’
He said his family was able to fly to Qatar on a crowded flight out of the country, and are now in Germany unsure what to do.
And a 32-year-old father, who also asked not to be named as he feared for the safety of his family, fled the country and arrived in Virginia with his one-year-old son – but had to leave behind his wife and daughter.
He told the Post he was able to get a Special Immigrant Visa due to his work with a Pakistani cargo company that contracted with the United States military, but was unable to secure safe passage for his wife and daughter after two nights outside the Kabul airport, because they did not have the proper paperwork.
‘It is difficult to be with a baby and be his mother and his father,’ the man said. ‘No one can feel my sensation. I repeatedly, repeatedly cried – this is his time to be with his mother.’
He said he knew the baby could not stay in the country, so he brought him along and is holding out hope that his wife and daughter will eventually make their own way into the United States.
‘He still asks me for his mom,’ the father said of his young son.
In a Sunday news conference, President Joe Biden said the Taliban has allowed U.S.-led forces to secure a perimeter outside the airport in Kabul
Meanwhile, more refugees were being flown into the United States and its allies on Sunday, with a Navy base on the Italian island of Sicily tweeting that about 650 people were flown into the base in just one day.
‘I could not be prouder of every single one of you,’ Captain Kevin Pickard, the commanding officer at NAS Sigonella told a group of personnel from the US Air Force, Marines, Navy and State Department before the first flight into the base arrived Sunday. ‘To see how this base is able to pull in support, all across Italy, is truly impressive.’
The base is serving as a transit location while refugees wait further transportation to more permanent settlements in the United States.
‘The people we’re helping are going to be joining our American family,’ Pickard said. ‘We’re proud to welcome them with open arms.’
President Joe Biden on Sunday said U.S.- led forces have expanded the perimeter of and ‘increased access’ to Kabul’s Hamid Karzai International Airport, adding that the Taliban has been ‘cooperative in extending the perimeter.’
‘The Taliban has not taken action against US forces’ since it overran the capital, Biden said at a Sunday news conference.
He had previously said that the US military operation in Afghanistan would end on August 31, but pushed back the timeline on Sunday, according to the Washington Post, saying the Taliban’s takeover has extended that date.
The president also thanked refugee support groups and others who were helping to rescue and acclimate the people who had flown into the United States over the past few days, and reiterated that everyone arriving in the country ‘will have undergone a background check.’
None of the planes departing Kabul will fly directly to the United States, he added.