RICHMOND, Virginia (AP) – Governor Ralph Northam’s government received notification Wednesday that the Department of Defense had approved the use of Marine Corps Base Quantico to house Afghan refugees and a National Guard facility in central Virginia.
Fort Lee, a military training area in Virginia, was already home to immigrants who had recently fled Afghanistan. In the coming weeks, capacity in Quantico and Fort Pickett, Nottoway Counties will be “built” to support approximately 5,000 and 10,000 people respectively, according to an email a senior Northam official received and shared with The Associated Press.
“We welcome these refugees, no matter how long or brief they are here,” said Billy Coleburn, the mayor of Blackstone, which is adjacent to Fort Pickett.
An email requesting further comments from the Department of Defense was not promptly returned.
US MP Abigail Spanberger, whose district is Fort Pickett, said her office is soliciting additional information from Biden government officials about the plans and their impact on the area.
Since the Taliban captured the Afghan capital on August 14, around 82,000 people have been flown out of Afghanistan.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Wednesday that up to 1,500 Americans may be waiting to be evacuated. And countless vulnerable Afghans are struggling to get into Kabul airport.
According to Northam communications advisor Grant Neely, more than 8,600 evacuees arrived in the United States via Washington Dulles International Airport in Virginia on Wednesday morning.
Senator Mark Warner, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at a community event on Wednesday that officials were looking for additional airports as entry points because Dulles was “overwhelmed,” according to a transcript of his office statements.
At the airport on Wednesday, a steady trickle of evacuees came from a waiting area where their papers were processed and they were being tested for COVID-19. They were then placed on waiting buses that would take them to the Dulles Expo Center or other temporary locations. Some said they waited at the airport for a day or more. In contrast to other international arrivals who pass through customs with a lot of luggage on carts, the evacuees often had little or no items.
Neely wrote in an email that military flights and buses provided transportation to take evacuees who are not U.S. citizens or green card holders to military facilities for further processing to their final destination. U.S. residents passed through immigration and customs and received assistance with temporary housing and travel, he said.
Virginia agencies and local governments helped with the logistical effort.
The Virginia Department of Health tested anyone who arrived in the past 72 hours with no evidence of a negative COVID test, Neely said.
Of the more than 900 tests done on Tuesday, 11 tested positive, he said. Fairfax and Loudoun counties provided isolation and quarantine space to U.S. residents who tested positive if necessary, Neely said. The Ministry of State and Defense took care of these accommodations for non-citizens.
Evacuees were also offered vaccines for the coronavirus and took them more often than Virginians, Warner said.
Northam said in an interview on Wednesday that he was proud of the state’s efforts.
Northam and his wife Pam also described the conditions at Fort Lee, which they both recently visited, but the press was not allowed access.
The refugees would be provided with adequate, culturally sensitive accommodation with access to medical care and space for recreation and worship.
“As you can imagine, logistically it is a big challenge. But they handle it well,” said Northam of the effort at Fort Lee.
Associate press writer Matthew Barakat contributed to this report.
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed in any way without permission.