US resumes Afghan refugee flights after measles shots

Members of the U.S. military and Afghan refugees play soccer at the Fort McCoy U.S. Army base on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021 in Fort McCoy, Wis. The fort is one of eight military installations across the country that are temporarily housing the tens of thousands of Afghans who were forced to flee their homeland in August after the U.S. withdrew its forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban took control.

Two local refugee resettlement agencies remain on standby as the U.S. government continues to face challenges in its effort to resettle thousands of Afghan refugees.

Bethany Christian Services announced almost three weeks ago that it was expecting the arrival around this time of at least 30 Afghan units, with one unit representing a number that could range from one individual to a multiperson family.

However, there seems to be a change in the refugees’ arrival timeline.

“It looks like significant resettlement may not happen until the spring now, which is very disappointing,” assistant director of public affairs and governance Allison Preston-Smith said.

Last week, the Associated Press reported that a measles outbreak put a hold on the resettlement efforts, dubbed Operation Allies Welcome. It also stranded about 15,000 Afghans at transit points overseas. However, OAW announced Monday that it has completed the vaccination campaign for measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and COVID-19 to the 53,000 Afghan evacuees at U.S. military bases, which are nearing their total capacity of 64,000.

Following recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the refugees will remain at the military installations at least 21 days after the vaccinations before they are able to get medical clearance to leave the bases.

"While we have been ‘assured’ of some cases, we have not yet received any travel notifications. We anticipate receiving very short notice of arrivals… maybe one week to only 48 hours before arrival in Lancaster," Church World Service development and communications director Rachel Helwig said.

CWS Lancaster expects to welcome approximately 30 Afghan refugees each month for the coming months, Helwig said, including special immigrant visa holders and evacuees who will be arriving with humanitarian parole status.

Humanitarian parole status allows someone who is otherwise inadmissible into the U.S. for a temporary period of time due to an emergency. However, parolees will only have access to the program for up to 90 days, so refugee advocates are urging lawmakers to enact legislation that would make Afghan parolees eligible for the same government benefits that traditional refugees receive.

CWS, Helwig said, is asking for community support primarily in permanent housing, financial support to cover the cost of food or other basic items while families wait to receive their employment authorization, and advocacy for initiatives that would allow Afghan clients to qualify for lifesaving services such as health insurance, emergency food assistance and permanent residency.

Meanwhile, the resettlement agency continues to reach out to local volunteers, faith groups, and community organizations to ensure support for the new families.

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