Omar calls for investigation of condition of Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy

The U.S. has temporarily suspended all evacuation flights because of a confirmed measles outbreak among some recent arrivals.

Rep. Ilhan Omar speaks with supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders in Las Vegas, Nevada in February, 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Rep. Ilhan Omar signed a letter sent to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin that calls on him to investigate potential “mistreatment” and “neglect” of Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin.

Rep. Gwen Moore of Wisconsin, a Democrat who represents the state’s fourth congressional district, appears to have been the primary letter writer, with Omar appending her signature as well.

The letter says Moore’s congressional office has recently heard “troubling allegations” of refugee conditions at Fort McCoy, including “rude” and “condescending” staff behavior, staff members who have called refugees “animals” to their faces or to other staff, and limited to no access to “basic necessities [like] undergarments and feminine hygiene products.”

“We urge you to swiftly take action to address these concerns and ensure that any such shortfalls are immediately alleviated and that these vulnerable individuals have access to all their basic needs while they await movement to their final places of refuge in our country,” the letter reads.

Afghan children play on makeshift swings at Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. (Fort McCoy/Facebook)

Moore and Omar say this would not be the first time that refugees have experienced subpar conditions at Fort McCoy. They mention reports from 1980 of some Cuban refugees who ran away from the fort due to conditions they found intolerable.

According to the Washington Post, the United States “struggled to vet” the 14,000 Cubans who had arrived at Fort McCoy that year. Some of them were transferred to prison because they were convicted criminals back home.

“With many emigres unable to quickly secure sponsors for resettlement, tensions flared in the camps where the Cubans were being processed. So did violence and escapes,” the Post added.

The number of Afghan refugees at Fort McCoy is estimated to be around 12,500, according to a Wisconsin State Journal report on the fort’s conditions. Their report quotes two anonymous Afghan women who claim “many people” don’t have anything to wear or eat and accuse some Afghan men of harassment.

Speaking to the Wisconsin State Journal, Thomas Gresback of the Department of Homeland Security blamed food shortages on supply chain issues. He says those issues have largely been resolved, with refugees now being offered “three hot meals per day.”

“We feel we’ve come a very long way in a very short period,” he told the paper.

In other Afghan refugee news, the U.S. has temporarily suspended all evacuation flights because of a confirmed measles outbreak among some recent arrivals. The suspension is only expected to last around a week.


Evan Stambaugh

Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.