Afghan evacuees adjust to new life in New Jersey

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PEMBERTON, New Jersey (WPVI) – Dozens of Afghan children are taking the first steps to adjust to their new life: they are learning English.

It all takes place inside a building that the US military once used for training.

The children are temporary residents of Liberty Village, which is located on the grounds of Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Air Force Base in Pemberton, New Jersey.

The base, which was not in use at the time, has been turned into a shelter and resource center for Afghan refugees.

There are three villages on the base, with Afghan refugees marching through each village. Many of them smile and laugh while talking to each other. Others wear signs of worry on their faces as they learn about the next steps in their new lives.

“Our unwavering goal has been to make their lives, in this temporary place, better every day,” said Brig. General Adrian White, who is the commander of Task Force Liberty. He adds that Liberty Village’s motto is “Better Every Day”.

Eleven thousand people currently live in Liberty Village. Forty percent of them are children under the age of 14.

Distribution of the refugee population in Liberty Village by sex: 46% of them are women and 54% are men. Due to cultural factors, single men and women are housed separately from each other. Families are housed together.

Their journey to this base began the same way: arriving in a sterile, organized building that routed them through several stations for a treatment procedure that can take 1 to 3 hours.

This process includes vaccinations, which include a mandatory COVID vaccine. The base continues to do COVID tests for refugees and estimates a positivity rate of less than 1%.

Refugees are screened for security purposes before being permitted to go to shelters such as Liberty Village. There are currently seven shelters in the United States

Dr Ghulam Eshan Sharifi was relieved when he flew out of Kabul as the Taliban took over.

“I was hiding because it was dangerous for me to go out,” Sharifi said.

He spent 15 years working directly with the US Navy to assist US forces in Afghanistan.

Silen Hussanzada, who is 25, remembers his arrival on September 8 well. She remembers seeing members of the Taliban beating people in the streets of Kabul and shocking them with electrical devices. Arriving in New Jersey was a relief from what she describes as trauma.

“When I got to the base, I felt that here I could rest,” she said.

Refugees in Liberty Village are also receiving medical care.

American forces oversaw the construction of an entire village from scratch, including rows of tent-shaped buildings with all the amenities of a doctor’s office. They provide everything from dental care to medical appointments and OB / GYN care. About 100 babies were born on the grounds of Liberty Village. Born on American soil, they are all Americans.

“It’s beautiful,” said Air Force Second Lieutenant Michael Yee who works with refugees, including children. “I am so optimistic about their future and the life they will have in the United States,” he said.

Senior Airman Natalie Dunaway says service members connect with the kids every day. The villages include military and civilians who serve as translators for the many languages ​​from different parts of Afghanistan.

“The kids are amazing. They always ask for lollipops,” Dunaway said.

Liberty Village also offers Halal-certified food at a 24-hour cafe, which includes take-out service.

Refugees who arrive with cash also have the opportunity to shop in other areas of the villages. The base offers culturally appropriate clothing for adults and children.

The clothes are donated by people across the country, including the Philadelphia area. The associations help to collect donations. Officials say the best way to find ways to contribute is through the website https://welcome.us/

“I know the evacuees are grateful (for the donations),” Dunaway said.

Liberty Village welcomes one to two groups of refugees per week. The most recent groups consisted of around 200 people each. The next group is expected to arrive on Sunday.

All refugees will become U.S. citizens and resettle in cities across the country, including Philadelphia. Some of the people who resettled from Afghanistan were already US citizens or had family in the United States and did not need to be transported to safe-haven sites.

Liberty Village began welcoming refugees on August 24. To date, approximately 83,000 Afghan refugees have been accepted into the United States.

About 35,000 people have left shelters to be resettled in permanent residences.

While waiting to be resettled, refugees go to job fairs, participate in recreational activities, take English classes and even do art therapy to overcome the trauma.

“Sometimes I use the translator to tell them, ‘It’s going to be fine. Everything will be fine, “” said senior aviator Monica Alvas, an Air Force reservist.

Such assurance gives refugees hope as they begin their new lives. It’s a very different life from what they experienced in Afghanistan.

“Here you are seen,” Hussanzada said. “People see you. People care about what you say. They care about how you feel.

Copyright © 2021 WPVI-TV. All rights reserved.


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