More than 25,000 Afghan refugees have passed through Philadelphia

Following a call from the Biden administration in August, Philadelphia opened its airport to Operation Allies Welcome, receiving Afghani evacuees.

Philadelphia mayor Jim Kenney. A press conference at Philadelphia International Airport about the ongoing Operation Allies Welcome as the airport welcomes more than 25,000 Afghan evacuees. [DANIELLA HEMINGHAUS]

Mayor Jim Kenney spoke about the city's role as a main hub for welcoming Afghan evacuees at a ceremony held Friday at Philadelphia International Airport. (Daniella Heminghaus/Billy Penn)

More than 25,000 Afghan evacuees have passed through the gates of Philadelphia International Airport since the Taliban took over the country in August, officials announced on Friday.

During a news conference inside the airport, speaker after speaker praised the city and its many partners for the job they’ve done during Operation Allies Welcome, which got underway at the end of August following a call from the Biden administration. Philadelphia remains the country’s main hub for accepting Afghan evacuees.

“When I got the first phone call that this might be possible, I knew in my heart that we would be doing it, because I know that our mayor and our residents are resolute that…we are a welcoming city,” said Adam Thiel, who directs the city’s Office of Emergency Management, one of the dozens of agencies involved in the mission.

“I’m incredibly moved by the response from our communities and their genuine desire to help these people in need,” said Mayor Jim Kenney.

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The overwhelming majority of the evacuees are not expected to remain in Philadelphia. Officials said they expected that figure to be around 700 people.

Upon arrival, evacuees have received medical screenings, including COVID-19 testing. They were also vetted by a “rigorous” security process before being sent to one of eight safe havens, from which they made their way to their final destinations, said Gerardo Spero, federal security director for TSA Philadelphia.

“I am so incredibly proud of everyone and what we’ve accomplished to support these individuals who supported us for the past 20 years. Together, we’ve made history and I’m very happy to have made history with all of you,” said Spero during the news conference.

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Officials say more Afghan evacuees will come through Philadelphia International Airport, but arrivals are expected to slow down in the coming months.

The Biden administration has said it expects a total of 95,000 Afghans to resettle in the U.S., including 30,000 who may come over the course of the next year.

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