Northam: Philly will join Dulles as evacuee arrival site
FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that Dulles International Airport will no longer be the sole entry point for Afghan evacuees — the Philadelphia airport will now take them as well.
During a press call, Northam called the evacuation effort “one of the largest airlifts in history” and said that as of Friday morning, 14,000 evacuees had already arrived at the airport.
The Pentagon has said it has evacuated more than 110,000 people. It takes evacuees several days to arrive in America, because evacuees are first taken to other nations, including Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Spain, Germany and Bulgaria, so many thousands more are still on their way to the U.S.
The addition of Philadelphia may help relieve a chokepoint at Dulles, where some evacuees have reported waiting 24 hours or more to be processed before going on to the next step of their journey.
Grant Neely, a spokesman for Northam, said Friday that it is helpful that Philadelphia is now taking evacuees. He said there’s no concern for now that Dulles can’t handle the numbers coming in. He acknowledged that some evacuees have faced long waits as they deal with Customs and other federal requirements, but he said the process has improved over time.
Evacuees are tested for COVID-19, Northam said, and vaccination clinics have been set up. Officials, though, said that so far they have been lightly used.
“These people are just coming out of a war zone. They’re landing in a new country. And so I think a lot of it is going to be educational,” Northam said. “I don’t think this is something you just automatically want to say, ‘You need to get a shot.’ So we’re trying to at least handle some of these individuals with respect and, you know, kid gloves, rather than saying, ‘Do this, do that.’”
Non-citizens arriving from Afghanistan are taken to the Dulles Expo Center after being processed at the airport and then to one of several military bases. Three of those bases are in Virginia — Quantico Marine Corps Base, Fort Pickett and Fort Lee.
Northam said those military bases are prepared to ramp up to house thousands of evacuees if necessary.
From the military bases they are resettled in communities in Virginia and elsewhere. Northam said evacuees spend an average of five days at the military bases, before moving to homes with help of agencies including Commonwealth Catholic Charities and Lutheran Family Services.