Signs of increasing logistical challenges are everywhere
It could be the happy moments, like the news of the 24 babies born here or the wedding last weekend. Or perhaps there is talk of trauma among evacuees or Afghans rummaging through clothes on folding tables after losing absolutely everything.
But it feels as if the events of life in all their complexity are simply unfolding for the more than 9,300 Afghan evacuees who have come to call this American military base in New Jersey home in the last month or so, and there could be been here for sometimes.
Joint Base McGuire DixLakehurst is one of eight locations in the United States that are home to tens of thousands of Afghans who fled aboard U.S. evacuation flights when the United States left Afghanistan last month after losing the war to the Taliban. To make you feel welcome, officials here refer to Afghans as their “guests.”
There are signs of growing logistical challenges everywhere. Construction crews push piles of gravel and expand the already huge area of white tents in which evacuees are housed. The clothes are placed on chain-link fences, presumably air-dried. Children are everywhere.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the invisible challenges, especially those related to mental health, are just as daunting.
Also read Taliban prohibits barbers from trimming beards in Afghan province
“Everyone here had a traumatic experience escaping from Afghanistan,” said a US military officer who briefed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin outside a women’s dormitory.
Austin was visiting Monday when Liberty Village celebrated an important milestone: Eleven Afghans from two families were the first to leave the base to be relocated to the United States.
It was a small step and a sign of how much work we have to do.
“I know it’s not easy,” Austin said as he thanked the US staff. “I know we got together… in a very short time. But you did an extraordinary job. “
I would love to be a resident
Monday’s visit was the first time journalists were allowed into Liberty Village. The base has a history of evacuation assistance. In 1999 it received more than 4,000 refugees Before the war in Kosovo, 4,444 Afghans received bracelets with unique identification numbers upon arrival, some were lucky enough to get a place in dormitories. Others stay in massive tents with only privacy fabric separating families.
The community around the base donated everything from school supplies to toys and prayer rugs. But the size of the donations initially overwhelmed military personnel.
As Liberty Village expanded, it began purchasing supplies on a regular basis and encouraging supporters to switch to e-gift cards rather than physical donations for evacuees.
Not everyone received the memo. A local resident recently said at a City Hall event with her congresswoman that she drove to a collection point with donations and “saw many, many open sacks sitting in the rain.”
“Now I have boxes and boxes of things that I bought that I would like to give away,” she said.
It is unclear how long Liberty Village will exist. US government officials have set up makeshift offices to streamline paperwork for Afghans and reduce a process that sometimes takes years to weeks or months to facilitate their relocation.
But it is clear that Liberty Village is preparing for the cold weather to come, as more evacuees will arrive from American bases abroad. 4,444 Afghans also live here. A group of Afghan women set up a beauty salon in Liberty Village, which last weekend helped the bride get ready for the wedding.
Back in Afghanistan, viral videos circulated showing beauty salons painting over photographs of women as the Taliban regained control. During the Taliban rule from 1996 to 2001, they prohibited women from leaving their homes without male relatives and closed schools for
As Austin was walking through Liberty Village during his visit Monday, he learned of two women hoping to become doctors in the United States. They were beaming with optimism.
“I would like to live in America,” said one of them.