Va. Governor: Refugees from Afghanistan headed to Ft. Pickett

Military base in Blackstone becomes second housing site in Virginia
Fort Pickett
Fort Pickett
Published: Aug. 24, 2021 at 5:47 PM EDT|Updated: Aug. 24, 2021 at 8:07 PM EDT
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BLACKSTONE, Va. (WWBT) - Virginia’s governor announced Tuesday another military base in the Commonwealth will house refugees from Afghanistan.

Governor Ralph Northam said refugees are now being sent to Fort Pickett in Blackstone in addition to Fort Lee in Prince George County.

“I so appreciate the humanitarian work that is going on in Virginia and in this country,” Northam said.

Roughly 6,000 refugees have already been processed in the Commonwealth, with more expected over the next few weeks, according to Northam.

“It starts with them landing in Dulles, being processed, tested for COVID, offered vaccinations, and then they’re being moved to either Ft. Lee or Ft. Pickett.,” Northam added. “Plans are then made for further disposition whether they go to other states or stay here in Virginia; about 10% are staying here in Virginia.”

During a briefing Tuesday afternoon, senior officials with the Biden Administration would not confirm Ft. Pickett as another housing site. However, they did mention the expansion of housing sites might happen because they do not want to overburden communities already housing refugees.

“Fort Lee is only so big, so we gotta get some overflow going here,” said Owen Waggoner, a retired U.S. Army veteran. “I would be glad if they could process them at Ft. Pickett that’s great.”

According to Gov. Northam, Fort Pickett now joins the list of bases across the country assisting refugees from Afghanistan. Refugees are now traveling to Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Dix in New Jersey and Fort Lee. However, the addition of Ft. Pickett does not surprise some.

“Fort Pickett is one of the nation’s best training facilities on the east coast,” said Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn. “It’s home of the half-billion-dollar U.S. Department of State facility, so it really should be no surprise that we would play a role in this type of humanitarian operation.”

Coleburn said this isn’t the first time the base has been utilized for refugees and other individuals from previous conflicts of war.

“During World War II, men who fought for Hitler came to Pickett and were POWs,” Coleburn said. “Fifty years ago, when I was a little boy growing up in Blackstone, we had a large number of Vietnamese refugees that came to Ft. Pickett.”

During Tuesday’s briefing, senior officials with the Biden Administration said the refugees are going through extensive biometric security screenings before they even step foot on American soil.

There are three groups these individuals fall in:

  • Americans & green cardholders
  • Special Immigrant Visa applicants which include translators and their families
  • Other vulnerable refugees from Afghanistan who have been identified

Additionally, once these men, women, and children are sent to the military bases, a full medical screening will occur along with helping them with work authorizations.

Blackstone’s mayor said there have been some mixed feelings about Pickett being utilized as a housing option, but he has asked residents to stay calm.

“We want to show compassion and want to accommodate them because what I’ve been told is a lot of these folks and their families laid it on the line for the USA,” Coleburn said. “You can’t tell everybody that America is a free and welcoming nation and then not demonstrate that.”

Meanwhile, Northam did not say how many refugees would be heading to Ft. Pickett but anticipated many more being processed and housed there in the near future.

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