Ns News Online Desk: A thin length of yellow tape cordoned off the new arrivals – hundreds of Afghan refugees fresh off the plane from Kabul airport – from the intrusion of their new world, the grounds of an exhibition center in Chantilly, Virginia.
Masoud, his wife and four children were among them, clutching plastic bags filled with blankets, toothbrushes and the like. Someone had given the girls notebooks, the kind American children will be going back to school with this week.
He had been a driver for US forces and then the Afghan government, he told BBC Persian. “Everyone knew who I was working for,” Masoud said.
As soon as Kabul fell to Taliban hands on 15 August, he shut his house and went straight to the airport, though not with his car, today perhaps still abandoned in his driveway. “I could not stay longer” he said, realizing he had a target on his back. “For years people had seen me with these [government-marked] cars”. It was just as well Masoud fled quickly.
Those lucky enough to have escaped before the allied troop withdrawal deadline of 31 August can look forward to a new life in the US or one of two dozen countries that have opened their doors to Afghan refugees – even as hope dims for those trapped in Afghanistan when evacuations end.When they landed at Dulles Airport, just outside Washington DC, men, women, children and the elderly were shepherded aboard a fleet of buses and taken to the center that would give them temporary shelter.
Rows of neatly made beds with green covers made the cavernous place resemble the inside of a military barracks. A fleet of 20 or 30 portable toilets had been put in a back lot. Some 300 people would spend the night there, BBC Persian was told before access to the center was cut off to journalists.
A translator volunteering at the center described seeing among the arrivals a young girl who had come with only a sister and cousins, but no parents. “Her mother had to choose between sending her daughter alone or keeping her in Afghanistan,” BBC Persian was told. Her relatives did not know when or if the girl’s mother would make it.
Another woman had just given birth five days earlier, but had kept quiet about her condition, bearing the pain all the way from Kabul to Virginia. The translator discovered that she was bleeding and called an ambulance, she said.Over 110,000 people have been airlifted from Afghanistan since the start of the evacuations in July, with over a third flown out of Kabul in just 48 hours between Tuesday and Thursday in over 180 US military and coalition flights.
Tens of thousands are now awaiting background checks at bases in a network of transit centers – dubbed “lily pads” – across the Persian Gulf and Europe before being brought to the US or sent to a third country for relocation.
John Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, has said that the US plans to start the resettlement of those who arrived in America by first placing some 25,000 refugees at four military bases.
From Fort Bliss, Texas; Fort McCoy, Wisconsin; Fort Lee, Virginia or Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, the refugees can move to more permanent shelter, arranged with the help of religious and private charities and community efforts.