Fort Bliss, Home to Thousands of Unaccompanied Minors, Also Housing 10K Afghan Evacuees

A military base, where thousands of unaccompanied children who crossed into the U.S. are being kept, will now also become the temporary homes of almost 10,000 Afghan refugees.

The Biden administration gave a media tour on Friday of Fort Bliss military base, where Afghans evacuated out of their country are being screened before beginning new lives in the U.S.

Fort Bliss is also where thousands of children from Central American countries, who have been fleeing to the U.S. in record numbers without adults, are staying. The children will stay there until they are reunited with relatives in the U.S., placed with a sponsor, or sent to a licensed facility.

Lieutenant Colonel Allie M. Payne, Director of Public Affairs for the 1st Armored Division and Fort Bliss, told Newsweek that the site where Afghans are being screened is separate from that of the unaccompanied children.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

Fort Bliss, Texas
The Biden administration provided the first public look inside the U.S. military base where Afghans airlifted out of Afghanistan are screened, amid questions about how the government is caring for the refugees and vetting them. Above, an aerial view of Fort Bliss' Doña Ana Village in New Mexico is seen on September 10. Farnoush Amiri/AP Photo

On Friday, Afghan children with soccer balls and basketballs played outside large white tents. One young girl was still wearing dirty clothing.

Under the program called "Operation Allies Welcome," some 50,000 Afghans are expected to be admitted to the United States, including translators, drivers and others who helped the U.S. military during the 20-year war and who feared reprisals by the Taliban after they quickly seized power last month.

The three-hour tour at Fort Bliss Army base in El Paso, Texas, was the first time the media has been granted broad access to one of the eight U.S. military installations housing Afghans.

The U.S. government spent two weeks building what it calls a village to house the Afghans on the base. It is a sprawling area with hundreds of air-conditioned tents used as dormitories and dining halls on scrubby dirt lots, landscape that in some ways resembled parts of the homeland they fled.

Nearly 130,000 were airlifted out of Afghanistan in one of the largest mass evacuations in U.S. history. Many of those people are still in transit, undergoing security vetting and screening in other countries, including Germany, Spain, Kuwait and Qatar.

Members of Congress have questioned whether the screening is thorough enough. Many of the Afghans who worked for the U.S. government have undergone years of vetting already before they were hired, and then again to apply for a special immigrant visa for U.S. allies.

After they are released from the base, they will be aided by resettlement agencies in charge of placing the refugees. The agencies give priority to places where the refugees either have family already in the United States or there are Afghan immigrant communities with the resources to help them start a new life in a foreign land.

So far, no one at Fort Bliss has been released for resettlement.

The Pentagon has said all evacuees are tested for COVID-19 upon arriving at the Dulles International Airport in Washington.

Correction, September 14, 2021,11:30 a.m. ET: This story has been corrected to clarify that the site where Afghans are being screened and housed is separate from that of unaccompanied minors.