Fort Lee Virginia Announced as First Stop for Afghan Refugees

In a 19 July press conference, Pentagon Spokesperson John Kirby announced that Fort Lee, Virginia has been selected as the first location to receive Afghan refugees. The decision came after the State Department asked the Department of Defense (DoD) to find a suitable location to house 2,500 Afghans as part of efforts to evacuate locals who had aided the US military in Afghanistan and their families.

“We have recommended, based on this initial request for assistance, the use of Fort Lee, in Virginia, as a temporary host installation. We’re mindful of the large number that are in the SIV [Special Immigrant Visa] program right now at various stages and we have said all along that DOD will contribute to the interagency effort … to help in the relocation efforts of all those in the SIV program that are interested and eligible to come to the United States.”

The first 2,500 Afghans include 700 individuals who directly aided US forces in Afghanistan as well as 1,800 of their family members. Kirby stated the DoD is already considering other locations to house additional refugees although the department has not yet been asked to make a selection.

Kirby’s announcement follows a decision made by Joe Biden earlier this month to evacuate Afghan refugees from the country first and to only then finish their visa processing. Interpreters and other local support personnel have often been targeted by the Taliban while the SIV visa program, which was designed to allow these people to apply for US visas, had been extremely slow in processing requests; often it took years to process an application.

With a final exit date set for 31 August, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan is proceeding rapidly. The security situation in the country is deteriorating just as quickly. The Taliban advance is making rapid progress and the UN has estimated that over 270,000 Afghans have been displaced so far this year.