The fate of an Afghan journalist at Fort McCoy



FORT MCCOY, Wisconsin – An evening bugle call was played in the background as Nabila, her mother and an English-speaking friend spoke with a reporter on the phone. They had been at Fort McCoy for about two weeks and arrived in early September.

Nabila, 21, does not know when she will be able to leave. Maybe six weeks, maybe two months, she said through her interpreter friend. Arriving as an at-risk journalist thanks to the humanitarian parole announced by the Biden administration in August for refugees without special immigrant visas, she worries about her career and a delayed new start already fraught with worry.

“If I’m outside, I can start my journalistic activity… I can register for certain language courses,” she explains through her friend.

“We don’t know the community, the society. For her it’s a new life, and she’s going to start a new life, but she’s worried [sic] about that. What will we do, what will happen if we enter society? “

Nabila assured News 3 that she wanted to be identified, sending in video clips and photos from her time as a journalist and law student in Afghanistan before the Taliban takeover left her and her mother behind. fleeing Kabul in a military flight on August 21. We are protecting the identity of her mother and her friend, both refugees themselves.

Their message is a message of gratitude for the escape and gratitude for the care and shelter, after weeks of trauma and anxiety leaving a country torn by 20 years of war. But they also have concerns.

Medical care: their main concern

The longer they stay, the more of her mother’s health becomes a major concern, Nabila said. All three refugees expressed problems with the medical treatment provided by Task Force McCoy and related personnel.

Nabila’s mother was diagnosed in Afghanistan with unspecified heart disease to News 3, as well as high blood pressure. She suffered a medical emergency, described by their interpreter as breathing difficulties and “cardiac arrest”, during their crowded evacuation flight from Kabul to Qatar. But when it came time to see a doctor in Fort McCoy, he told them she had no heart problem at all.

“His mother said that ‘The doctor told me that [there is] no problem with your heart, ”said their English-speaking friend, translating for Nabila’s mother. “Your big problem is that you are stressed out. You are concerned [sic] of all; that is why you are facing such problems.

Their concerns, they said, were dismissed. News 3 reviewed the documents from the visit with the doctor, later provided by the family. She was diagnosed with atypical chest pain and prescribed ibuprofen and Tylenol.

In response to questions about the medical issues, a spokesperson for the McCoy task force did not specifically say whether medical staff had access to previous medical records. All refugees undergo a medical examination, the spokesperson said, and language services are provided for all medical appointments both on the base or at a local health facility if a guest needs acute care.

There are 300 * clinical and administrative staff serving Afghan refugees at the base, which has been expanded to temporarily house 13,000 refugees. When asked how they would address the concerns of Nabila’s mothers about how her condition was being treated differently in Afghanistan compared to the United States, the spokesperson said their health care was a top priority.

“We are prioritizing acute and urgent care as well as public health to minimize the risk and spread of communicable diseases,” said an emailed statement from the McCoy task force. “We treat each case with the diagnosis and treatment regimen which is determined to be the best course of action for each patient. “

Nabila’s English-speaking friend, who was granted anonymity for security reasons, said just days ago other refugees told him they had to wait two days for orders. He raised the issue during a recent meeting with Ft. McCoy officials, he said.

“[Healthcare] is everyone’s big concern, ”he said. “The capacity is low.

Officials told him they were working on it, he said, but provided no details. Forums for comment on medical and other issues, as well as less formal conversations, are ongoing between refugees and Fort McCoy officials, a spokesperson said. Regarding prescription delays, basic medicines are kept on site, but other prescriptions are sent to community pharmacies and brought back to base. A spokesperson, however, did not say how long the second process could take.

“We are seeking constant feedback from our Afghan guests on how the interagency team at Fort McCoy can improve their temporary stay. “

A handful of health care organizations are helping treat Afghan refugees, including Gundersen, Mayo Clinic and the Red Cross. According to her medical documents, Nabila’s mother was seen by a doctor in Gundersen. Ultimately, Nabila said she was constantly worried about her mother’s fragile health.

“She is old and she is sick,” she said. “If anything happens to him, the health care capacity is so low here. “

Food, clothing, activities

Nabila and her mother only have two dresses each – the one they wore when leaving Afghanistan, and one they later received at a base in a third country before arriving in the United States., A Nabila said in SMS with News 3.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Salvation Army and Team Rubicon on Thursday announced the launch of yet another clothing donation campaign, urging people to donate much-needed winter clothing to families. refugees. Shoes and coats were scarce, they said.

“As many of them fled with only clothes on their backs and very little belongings, there is an immediate need for winter clothing and footwear,” Angie Salazar, federal coordinator of Operation Allies Welcome. “We are asking the people of Wisconsin to help us.”

The food has been “good enough” for them, Nabila said. The supply chain and clothing issues, reported earlier this week by the Wisconsin State Journal, are in the process of being resolved, officials told the public. A congressional delegation called for an investigation into possible ill-treatment of the refugees.

Nabila spends her time on the base reading books she brought back from Afghanistan or, when she can, talking to friends at home. She hardly knows anyone on the base, she said. Above all, she can’t wait to leave.

Departure time

None of the refugees who spoke to News 3 have obtained much information on when they will be able to leave. That was the main question they wanted to ask the officials.

“Maybe a month? Three, four weeks? asked the interpreter. “I have the same question.”

“How? ‘Or’ What [much] time will we stay here? Nabila asked. None of them seem to know.

A spokesperson for the McCoy task force said they communicate with refugees about the length of their stay in a variety of ways, including community message boards, regular town halls and neighborhood chats in English, Dari and in Pashto.

“It is important to note that the application process is different for each person or family depending on where they are in the process, and this will have an impact on the length of their stay in the facility,” said the spokesperson in an email. “Fort McCoy is ready to provide housing and support to these Afghan personnel for as long as needed. “

About 37,000 Afghan refugees will be resettled in 47 states over the next few weeks, and Wisconsin is expected to welcome 399. CBS News reported that as of Wednesday morning, there were more than 53,000 refugees at eight military installations across the country, including Fort McCoy. . 12,000 more wait at bases in third countries, after news of temporary halt to inbound flights after six cases of measles were discovered among refugees in the United States

Refugees undergo biometric and background checks before arriving in the United States, with Fort McCoy performing an additional check.

Many evacuees are on humanitarian parole, a legal process invoked in August by the Biden administration that allows refugees to arrive in the United States visa-free for humanitarian reasons. From there, those who do not have a special immigrant visa application started to have an unclear path to visas. After a year in the United States, the Biden administration wants Congress to create a legalization program that would allow them to apply for green cards for permanent stays. Currently, they could be faced with the backlog of the asylum system.

For those who have worked for the US government or who have arrived as at-risk defenders, aid workers and journalists, the path to resettlement may soon begin under the new Afghan Placement and Assistance Program (APA).

“The majority of Afghans who will be resettled in the United States have worked directly with the United States as part of their mission in Afghanistan, including as part of military, diplomatic and development efforts – or will be a member of the United States. the family of someone who did it, ”a senior official said. A DHS official said at a press briefing earlier this week. “Thousands of other members of this group have worked as journalists, human rights or humanitarian activists and had careers that put them at risk, making them eligible for P1 or P2 visas.

A way forward

Nabila can’t wait to leave the base and start a new life in the United States with her mother. She is passionate about journalism and hopes to do so here. It’s been her dream since she was little, she says.

It was difficult for her to leave, but it would have been much more difficult to stay.

On August 31, Reporters Without Borders said that less than 100 of the 700 women journalists were still working in Afghanistan. Nabila, who produced lengthy video reports for a Youtube channel, said she had no choice but to leave Afghanistan out of fear for her life, under a regime known to restrict women, abuse and harass the media. Al Jazeera reported that 153 local news outlets have gone out of business since the August 15 takeover.

His brother remained in Afghanistan. Every day, she worries about him.

“I ask all international organizations – human rights, the United Nations, all – not to remain silent on Afghanistan,” she pleaded. “They have to do something for Afghanistan. I ask them, I raise my voice to them, that they must help Afghanistan.

* An incorrect number of 120 staff was first provided to News 3 Now; The McCoy Task Force corrected this number to 300 after publication.




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