Inside Fort McCoy: Afghan refugees speak out about life inside the base

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 7:30 PM CDT
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FORT MCCOY, Wis. (WMTV) - In a first-ever media look inside the temporary refugee housing site at Fort McCoy, Afghans said they are looking ahead to a brighter future.

Officials Thursday described an Army base-turned city for the roughly 13,000 Afghans who live there. More often called “guests” or “friends” by the officials, the Afghans are divided into neighborhoods, each with a “mayor.”

Task Force McCoy Commander Christopher Norrie said almost half of the refugees are children, as some of them played soccer behind him at a Thursday morning press conference.

“I walk this footprint every day, and every day I see something new,” he said. “English classes taught by Afghan professors. Women and Children’s centers. Incredible work by our interagency partners. Swings built by Afghan kids. Exercise classes. Families out walking. Soccer games. Sidewalk drawings. Movie nights and town hall meetings.”

Inside the mix are former journalists, interpreters for the U.S. military, as well as more than 200 expecting mothers, according to officials. They said eight babies have been born at the base.

Farzana Mohammadi is a former Afghan Paralympic basketball player, and she now dreams of relocating to Seattle. She called it her “favorite city.”

Her interpreter said, “The opportunities she’s saying that she’s going to have here. Going to college to become a psychologist. Playing her sports, continue her career in sports. She was not going to get this opportunity there. So she is happy.”

At so-called community care centers, officials said refugees can pick up everyday supplies. They also have access to 24-hour medical care, as well as food meeting halal standards.

Nasir Ahmad, a former interpreter for the U.S. military, said he was doing “good.” He pointed to an Army supervisor standing beside him, after they first met in Afghanistan in 2011.

“Since I’ve met my friend in Wisconsin I’ve been very good. I’m so happy with him. He’s the man that I’m glad. I’m in United States because of him,” Ahmad said.

In preparation for resettlement at various locations around the country. officials said they are educating people about their need for things like cold weather gear. They also said they ran a five-day vaccine push for diseases including COVID-19, as well as measles and mumps.

According to Skye Justice, a team lead from the U.S. State Department, all Afghan families are eligible for resettlement. He said federal officials are preparing to resettle the evacuees in bigger waves. Their task now is to complete immigration paperwork, including employment authorization and health screenings.

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