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Biden Administration working on refugee COVID-19 vaccine process and protocol

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 7:43 PM CDT
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(WSAW) - As the first wave of refugees land at military bases like Fort McCoy in Wisconsin, the federal government is beginning to share more details about how those bases will serve Afghan refugees.

The White House administration said those arriving at bases like Fort McCoy have already been thoroughly screened for security threats at transit centers in other countries before touching U.S. soil.

Before reaching the bases, all people, including American citizens, U.S. legal permanent residents, and Special Immigrant Status refugees will be tested for COVID-19 at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia. After being tested, citizens and LPRs can return to their homes, and refugees will be taken to the military bases temporarily housing them. Whether they will be offered or required to receive a COVID-19 vaccine is unclear as of Monday.

“They are being tested, and we are working through offering vaccines and what that process will look like. I hope to have more of an update on that for you in the next day or two,” Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary said in a press conference Monday.

At the bases, refugees will be connected with resettlement agencies and services and receive a full medical screening. As it pertains to COVID-19 precautions, a spokesperson for the Department of Defense at Fort McCoy said they are following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s maximum guidelines and encourage refugees to follow those recommendations too.

“Individuals in proximity of vulnerable Afghans will be required to don personal protection equipment (PPE) for the duration of their shift,” Cheryl Phillips with the 88th Readiness Division said. “The safety and security of vulnerable Afghans and military personnel, families and communities is a top priority, and health protection of all involved is of paramount importance in this effort. While in the United States, vulnerable Afghans will be encouraged to follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations for COVID mitigation.”

Many refugees will be in “parolee” status as they wait for the final approval of their visas. They will be allowed to leave the base as they work with resettlement agencies like Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin.

The program refugees go through varies depending upon each individual’s circumstances, but the funding for the programs is a mix of government, private, and non-profit partnerships, with the ultimate goal of helping refugees become self-sufficient and off government assistance. Resettlement agencies set refugees up with furnished housing, clothing, and food stipends, along with medical, social, and employment services. Some of the services also include zero-interest loans, which must ultimately be repaid.

Phillips noted the support they are providing at Fort McCoy will not impact “military training, operations, readiness, or other military requirements, including National Guard or Reserve readiness,” and the support will be reimbursable.

“Particularly SIVs have given almost everything to support our government, to support our American dream. They see the U.S. as being a golden beacon of safety and security freedom and hope and opportunity, and this is our chance,” Mary Flynn with LSS said. “We need to step up and we need to do it without politicization.”

The government tracks refugee’s progress towards self-sufficiency in their first five years in the country. Flynn said after the initial assistance, refugees actually use government benefits at a much lower rate than the mainstream U.S. population. She said a good example of that progress is the Rohingya refugees from Burma Wisconsin have been resettling for the last five years.

“We are seeing an unprecedented rate of homeownership within two to three years after arrival, which really shows that they are savers. They’re hard workers, they save their money and they’re able to buy houses and they’re actually refreshing a lot of neighborhoods in the greater-Milwaukee area,” she said.

The latest five-year refugee assessment found 66% of people age 16-64 were in the labor force, of whom nearly 90% were employed, “this is slightly lower than the comparable rates for native-born members of the U.S. population,” the 2021 annual report to Congress noted. Two percent of households reported public assistance was their only source of income.

“This is really our international expression of democracy,” Flynn urged. “This is how we tell people what the United States is, and if we’re not welcoming, if we don’t have open hearts and open minds about what people have been through and that their life will be better here because that’s what we’re all about. That’s what we say we’re all about. I think that’s the biggest thing that people need to remember.”

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