Plan for US to host Afghan evacuees in Texas ‘not safe’ due to concerns for children

Plan for US to host Afghan evacuees in Texas ‘not safe’ due to concerns for children
A bipartisan plan to host Afghan evacuees to the US in El Paso, near the border with Mexico, has raised concerns over human rights violations.
3 min read
23 August, 2021
The plan to house fleeing Afghans at the million-acre Fort Bliss military base has been met with concerns by immigration rights experts [Getty]

A plan by the US to host Afghan evacuees in El Paso, Texas, has been judged "not safe" by experts due to precedent reports of violations of migrant children's rights in the past following their crossing from neighbouring Mexico.

The plan to house fleeing Afghans at the million-acre Fort Bliss military base received bipartisan support but was met with concerns by immigration rights experts.

One expert who spoke to UK newspaper The Guardian on condition of anonymity said that while Fort Bliss was not intended for permanent resettlement, those escaping the Taliban rule might need to stay at the facility for as long as a year while their papers are processed.

They said their base was "not safe" due to concerns about conditions for migrant children. 

Bilal Askaryar, communications coordinator for Afghan immigration rights group Welcome With Dignity, said he was concerned for the future of the evacuees in the US.

"We should not be taking refugees from evacuation to, essentially, detention," Askaryar told The Guardian

The facility has come under fire for its handling of unaccompanied migrant children arriving from Mexico without parents or legal guardians.

The tented site has been described as a "detention camp" by human rights advocates and it has been inundated by flash floods during rainy seasons and scorching heat in the summer.

Elected officials have raised concerns about conditions in the facility. US Representative for Texas Veronica Escobar described the site as "absolutely unacceptable" following a visit in May.

The Biden administration was sued earlier this month over "shockingly deplorable conditions" at Fort Bliss, CBS reported.

The BBC and other news outlets found poor mental health among detained children and allegations of sexual abuse by staff.

Despite her previous assessment, Escobar has tweeted her approval for housing refugees at the local base, saying: "The refugees will not be housed in El Paso but elsewhere on the installation."

Escobar did not provide further details on how the living conditions will differ.

"I support the [Department of Defence’s] decision to consider Fort Bliss and other US military installation sites to resettle vulnerable refugees," she posted. "America must act swiftly to get our partners out of harm’s way and El Paso stands ready to welcome them and their families."

Speaking at the White House on Friday, Joe Biden tried sought to provide reassurance.

"We're going to do everything, everything that we can to provide safe evacuation for our Afghan allies, partners and Afghans who might be targeted because of their association with the United States," the president said.

John Cornyn, one of two Texas Republicans in the US Senate, said officials at Fort Bliss "believe they have more than enough space to accommodate the Afghan refugees".