About 14,000 refugees from Afghanistan have arrived at Dulles International Airport in the past 12 days, and up to 5,000 will be housed at Marine Corps Base Quantico starting Sunday, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday morning.
“Our mission is to obviously bring Americans home safely and certainly help our Afghan allies build a new life here,” Northam said during a conference call with reporters.
During the call, Northam allayed fears that the refugees would be bringing COVID-19 with them. He said that of the 14,000 refugees -- both U.S. citizens and Afghans with special immigrant visas -- who have arrived at Dulles since Aug. 16, only 20 positive COVID cases have been detected.
Where on base will refugees be housed? (like what kind of facility – gyms, dorms, apartments…
“It's important to understand that [all refugees] has to either get tested or show proof of a negative COVID test from the past 72 hours,” Northam said. “So, if people are saying that this mission is bringing COVID to the United States it's just simply not true."
Northam noted that in addition to being tested for COVID, refugees are screened and processed in countries allied with the U.S., including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Germany, Spain and Bulgaria, before they fly to Dulles.
Those who are U.S. citizens must go through customs and immigration, as well as take a COVID test, when they arrive at Dulles. After they are cleared, the state grants citizens access to temporary assistance, including things like cash, temporary lodging, transportation and travel arrangements.
Northam said that through Friday morning, 275 U.S. citizens have gone to the emergency repatriation center at the Marriott Hotel on the grounds of Dulles Airport to receive assistance.
Non-U.S. citizens are being taken to the nearby Dulles Expo Center, where they go through a separate immigration and vetting process handled by the U.S. Department of State.
FEMA has set up temporary mass vaccination sites at both Dulles Expo Center and the Marriot for people who want a COVID-19 vaccine. During the call, a spokesperson for the Virginia Department of Health did not comment on how many have received vaccines or whether it would become mandatory to for refugees.
Yaqub Zargarpur, chair of the board of the Muslim Association of Virginia, said that several translators he spoke with, who are contracted by the Department of State and work on site at the Dulles Expo Center, were not aware of any vaccine hesitancy among the refugees.
“None of [the translators] ever mentioned that any of [the refugees] had any concern about being vaccinated for COVID,” Zargarpur said.
Zargarpur and other area community leaders have raised concerns about conditions at the Expo Center and said that the U.S. government is not allowing them to deliver supplies they have collected for the refugees.
After refugees are processed at the Expo Center they are being transported to military installations, including Quantico, Fort Pickett in southern Virginia, and Fort Lee in Petersburg, for further processing.
Quantico currently has a capacity to house 1,000 refugees, Northam said, but it can be scaled up to 5,000.