New Jersey ready to provide safe harbor for Afghan refugees

U.S. Airmen and Marines guide Afghan evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul

U.S. Airmen and Marines guide Afghan evacuees aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul. (Senior Airman Brennen Lege/U.S. Air Force via AP)

This story originally appeared on NJ Spotlight.

A day after Gov. Phil Murphy said the state stands ready to provide a safe harbor and support for Afghan refugees, the U.S. Department of Defense said Monday that Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst will be one of four military installations to begin to receive them in coming days.

But numerous questions remain about what will happen to the refugees once they get here.

Army Maj. Gen. William “Hank” Taylor said during a Pentagon briefing on Monday that in the past 24 hours five flights landed at Dulles International Airport with approximately 1,300 passengers. He said besides Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Lee in Virginia and Fort McCoy in Wisconsin will receive the refugees. He said currently there are 1,200 people at the military bases. It was unclear if any had already arrived in New Jersey.

“North Com continues to build out capacity to ensure they are prepared to receive more flights that will come in the next few days,’’ Taylor said.

Murphy, during his regular coronavirus briefing, said he had spoken to military officials who told him some of the Afghan refugees that arrive at Dulles will then be transported to the New Jersey base. He said their arrival is imminent, even though a lot of the details still need to be determined.

“We are honored to do our part,’’ he said.

Murphy to Biden: N.J. is ready

A day earlier, Murphy wrote a letter to President Joe Biden letting him know the state stands ready to welcome Afghan allies. He said accepting the Afghan refugees honors the sacrifice made by veterans of the Afghanistan War.

Some Afghans fleeing the Taliban-controlled country have applied for or received Special Immigrant Visas, which are given to people who have worked with the U.S. military forces in Afghanistan as translators or in other ways.

“These folks fought alongside of them in many cases, and gave them intelligence and supported them in many cases,’’ Murphy said. “To the blessed veterans who I know this past week or so it has been gut-wrenching, and to these refugees who have been by our side I want to say unequivocally that New Jersey will do its part.”

The governor said he didn’t know if the Afghan refugees will relocate permanently in the Garden State, noting that even though New Jersey has a diverse population, it is not home to many people from Afghanistan. He said usually refugees and other immigrants relocate to places where family, friends or others they know live.

“That’s not to say we won’t raise our hand and do our fair share,’’ he said. “If they want to stay in the great Garden State, we will do everything we can to make that work for them and for us.”

According to 2019 one-year estimates from the American Community Survey, there are approximately 120,000 to 140,000 people of Afghan ancestry in the country. Many reside in Northern Virginia and California, Murphy said.

Home to earlier refugees

This won’t be the first time that the military base has received refugees. In 1999, more than 4,000 ethnic Albanian refugees from Kosovo arrived at the base after leaving their war-torn country. They were first held in camps in Macedonia before arriving in New Jersey.

The ethnic Albanian refugees stayed at the base for a few months while they were screened before they were relocated.

Alison Millan, deputy director of the International Rescue Committee’s office in Elizabeth, said they were still trying to figure out how the agency will be involved in helping the refugees who arrive at the base.

Millan said the committee contracts with the Department of State to resettle refugees and will continue to help families who come through the refugee program, including people from Afghanistan. The organization launched a $10 million fundraising campaign last week to help people in Afghanistan.

A State Department spokesperson said that due to the complicated nature of the evacuations and to protect the privacy and security of the arriving Afghans, the department was not providing specifics on arrival times, airports, carriers, housing locations, processing timelines or destinations beyond the Garden State.

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