No longer facing the threat of the Taliban, 3,300 Afghan refugees now temporarily living at Fort Bliss in Texas face a new challenge.
The living conditions appear filthy.
Images from the bathrooms and showers refugees at Fort Bliss are using revealed much of it is rusted. The floors are muddy. There are flies all over the toilets and sinks.
Those inside say there are 10 people to a room.
“It’s really just prison life,” Mariam Mustafa said. She’s an Afghan-American helping refugees. “You eat, you get fed, you get outside time and you’re back in your bunker.”
Mustafa called the conditions “inhumane.”
“They don’t have just basic necessities like a razor, a toothbrush, cream or sunblock,” she said. “We’re in the same clothes that we were in when we left you.”
That means many of the people at Fort Bliss have been wearing the same clothes for more than two weeks.
Hamed Ahmadi, 28, who is now living in a tent at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas, posted a picture of his meager ration.
Ahmadi escaped Kabul only a few days ago and is now living with 70 hours at Fort Bliss, which has been criticized for its hygiene and food.
“We need things that they have promised, but haven’t received anything yet,” one refugee told NewsNation in Dari. “They give us a list and we’re told that they will visit our rooms. It has been three days — no one has checked on us yet.”
Krish O’Mara Vignarajah runs a nonprofit that helps refugees. She visited Fort Bliss when the base housed unaccompanied minors from Central and South America. Her organization, Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, is ready to help.
She said she’s not surprised to hear about the poor conditions, but she was not expecting at least one of the issues that cropped up.
“What surprises me is they may not be receiving basic necessities such as a toothbrush or change of clothes when we’re receiving an outpouring of donations.”
A statement from the Pentagon said: “The lodging accommodations at the different installations range from emergency accommodations, including tents, to hotel rooms. All are accommodations our service members stay in from time to time.”
Rep. Yvette Harrell, a Republican from neighboring New Mexico, has been pushing to get into Fort Bliss, and is calling for an investigation into the conditions there.
“Images of dirty and dangerous living conditions highlight the need for immediate Congressional oversight,” Harrell said. “I am closely monitoring the developing situation.”
“The photos depicted in the Aug. 29 tweet are a permanent bathroom facility within the Doña Ana Housing Complex, currently termed Doña Ana Village. However, we cannot validate the timing or exact location of the photographs,” said a spokesperson for Fort Bliss.
“On August 21, Fort Bliss began receiving Afghan evacuees,” the spokesperson said. “Since that date, we have constructed more accommodations, arranged transportation, and provided meals for our Afghan guests. That capacity-building effort has not been perfect, but our team of Interagency partners, contractors, and DoD has not wavered in its commitment to temporarily house our guests in the safest conditions, which includes identifying challenges and resolving issues immediately.”
Without the perspective of the tweet in question, our team had already identified the need to shift maintenance resources to facilities most in need and to increase the frequency of cleaning. Our team is on site 24/7 to monitor conditions and solicit input from our guests.
On August 30, Task Force-Bliss was made aware of the photos from the tweet, and a specific effort was applied to ensure our guests were aware that we addressed the issue, and were reassured with an urgent response to any issues. Task Force-Bliss physically inspected and also sent a preventative medicine team to assess permanent bathroom facilities. Task Force-Bliss addressed the issue with both the Mayor Cell, which is the on-site unit responsible for managing the housing complex, and our leaders in charge of Doña Ana Village. Lastly, a local leader within Doña Ana Village volunteered to assist with communicating and addressing these issues within the community.
We would like to reiterate that this effort, and this mission, is a whole-of-government response. Our top priority remains providing a safe and secure environment for our guests to complete their immigration process in order to transition into their new lives in the United States. We have dedicated professionals on the ground around the clock, caring for each one of our guests.
“That capacity-building effort has not been perfect, but our team of Interagency partners, contractors and DoD has not wavered in its commitment to temporarily house our guests in the safest conditions, which includes identifying challenges and resolving issues immediately,” Payne told KTSM. “Without the perspective of the tweet in question, our team had already identified the need to shift maintenance resources to facilities most in need and to increase the frequency of cleaning.”
Payne said that teams are onsite around the clock to monitor conditions and solicit input from the Afghan refugees.
Payne said that Task Force-Bliss was made aware of the images that made the rounds on social media on Aug. 30 and applied a specific effort to ensure the Afghan refugees that the issue was being addressed, and reassured with an urgent response to any issues.
Task Force-Bliss conducted a physical inspecting and also sent a preventative medicine team to assess permanent bathroom facilities.
The issue was addressed with both the Mayor Cell, which is the onsite unit responsible for managing the housing complex, as well as leaders overseeing the Dona Ana Village.
A local leader within the Dona Ana Village volunteered to assist with communicating and addressing these sorts of issues within the community.