With births and a beauty salon, Afghan ‘guests’ transform U.S. base By Reuters
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A structure housing Afghan evacuees is seen at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, which has surged housing and supplies to host more than 9,300 Afghans awaiting resettlement in the United States, September 27, 2021. REUTERS/Phil Ste
By Phil Stewart
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, New Jersey (Reuters) – It could be the happy moments, like news of the 24 babies born here or last weekend’s wedding. Maybe it’s the shared trauma of evacuees and Afghans who are ruminating on how they have sorted through everything after losing everything.
There is a feeling that the events of life, however complex, are just unfolding for over 9300 Afghan evacuees, who now call the U.S. Military Base in New Jersey their home for the last month. They may also be staying for a while.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is one of eight locations in the United States hosting tens of thousands of Afghans who fled aboard U.S. evacuation flights when the United States exited Afghanistan last month after losing the war to the Taliban. In an attempt to make the Afghans feel welcomed, American officials refer to them as “guests”.
There are many signs of increasing logistical difficulties. Constructors move piles and heaps of gravel, adding more white tents to house the evacuees. Chain-link fencing is used to dry clothes. There are always children.
Unseen problems are often just as difficult, especially in the field of mental health.
A U.S. military representative informed Lloyd Austin that all present had experienced a traumatizing experience in Afghanistan. This was outside of a dormitory for women.
Austin came to Liberty Village to witness a milestone. On Monday, eleven Afghans representing two families left the base in order to resettle inside the United States.
Although it was an important step, this is a reminder of the work ahead.
As he thanked U.S. personnel, Austin stated that “I understand this is difficult.” It was a quick task, I’m sure. Your work is remarkable.
‘I’D LOVE TO BE A RESIDENT’
The Monday visit was the first time reporters were allowed into Liberty Village. It has been known to assist evacuees in the past. It received over 4,000 refugees fleeing war in Kosovo during 1999.
Afghans receive wristbands with their unique identification numbers when they arrive. Some of them were lucky enough get into dormitories. Many others live in large tents, separated by cloth privacy screens.
Everything from school supplies and toys to prayer rugs has been donated by the community around the base. The scale of the donations overwhelmed military personnel at first.
Liberty Village grew and began to purchase supplies regularly. It also encouraged people to use electronic gift cards to donate to evacuees instead of giving physical money.
Some people didn’t get the memo. One resident from the area said during a recent town-hall event that she stopped by a donation site to pick up donations. “Lots and tons of bags were sitting outside in the rain,” she stated.
She said that she now has boxes upon boxes of items that she purchased and would like to donate them.
It is not clear how long Liberty Village will be around. U.S. government officials created makeshift offices to speed-track paperwork for Afghans. It has cut down on the sometimes lengthy process of resettling Afghans from years to weeks to months.
It’s evident Liberty Village is ready for colder weather, as more refugees are expected to be arriving from U.S. military bases abroad.
Afghans have also begun to settle in. The bride was helped by a group of Afghan women who opened Liberty Village’s beauty salon.
As the Taliban took control of Afghanistan back in 1996, videos showing women being painted by beauty salons circulated. The Taliban’s rule from 1996 to 2001 prohibited women leaving their homes without the consent of a male relative. They also closed schools for girls.
Austin was walking around Liberty Village on Monday when he met two young women who wanted to be doctors in America. Their optimism was infectious.
One of them exclaimed, “I would love to become a citizen of America.”
Austin replied, “You will be.”