The United States is flying thousands of refugees out of Afghanistan, but they face desperate and unsanitary conditions in the US’ processing center in Qatar, a leaked email has revealed.
Al Udeid Air Base in Doha, Qatar, is the first port of call for many Afghan refugees lucky enough to get a spot on an American flight out of Kabul. The base is one of several where these refugees will be processed and screened, before being flown on to the United States, Europe and Asia.
Conditions at the base, however, are “a living hell,” Colin Sullivan, an agent with US Central Command, told State Department and Pentagon officials in an email on Friday, reported by Axios on Tuesday.
“Trash, urine, fecal matter, spilled liquids and vomit cover the floors,” Sullivan wrote, describing the packed hangar housing the refugees. “I spent an hour in there picking up trash… almost suffocated.”
“We’re in the middle of humanitarian crises [sic] that compounds itself with every flight that lands in Doha,” he continued, before writing a grim update: “They now have a rat problem.”
According to Sullivan, the hangar lacks proper air conditioning, a serious problem when temperatures in Doha this week are expected to hit 107 degrees Fahrenheit (41.6 Census) this week. “There’s a reason they’re not holding the World Cup in the middle of the summer there,” an anonymous official told Axios, referring to the 2022 World Cup’s November kickoff. “It’s brutally hot.”
The precise number of refugees housed in the hangar at any one time is unknown, as is the total number the Biden administration plans on bringing to the US. “Roughly a few thousand” Americans remain on the ground in Kabul, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told NBC News on Sunday, and they are reportedly being prioritized for evacuation. However, Sullivan told reporters on Monday that “thousands, if not tens of thousands” of people are being flown out of Kabul every day. Presumably, the bulk of these are Afghans, bound for processing centers like Al Udeid Air Base.
Many of these refugees are traveling without passports, the Washington Post reported on Saturday. While this presents US officials with difficulty verifying that these people are who they say they are, officials at Al Udeid are facing more immediate risks to their safety. US embassy bosses pulled their staff out of the hangar in recent days, citing the risk of catching Covid-19 from incoming refugees. Less than 1% of Afghans are fully vaccinated against the disease.
The State Department says it’s alleviating the problem by speeding the Afghans on to the West. On Monday alone, “more than 3,700 individuals were transported to follow-on destinations in the United States, Germany and Italy,” a department spokesman told Axios.
A Pentagon spokesman added that the military has installed more than 100 toilets in the hangar and is now supplying 7,000 traditional Afghan meals, three times a day.
Against the wishes of the Taliban, which has controlled Afghanistan for more than a week, Biden has refused to rule out extending the August 31 deadline for a complete US withdrawal from Afghanistan. A decision on this deadline is expected later on Tuesday.
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