US resumes Afghan refugee flights after containing measles outbreak

Outbreak stranded about 15,000 people at overseas transit points

Afghan refugees wait to be processed inside Hangar 5 at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Reuters
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Afghan refugees will soon be arriving in the US after a campaign to vaccinate them against measles following a small outbreak that caused a three-week delay, officials said on Monday.

Authorities vaccinated about 49,000 evacuees staying temporarily on American military bases, and those still at transit points in Europe and the Middle East, the Department of Homeland Security said.

The measles outbreak, detected in 24 people, put on hold one of the largest refugee resettlement efforts in US history, dubbed Operation Allies Welcome, and stranded about 15,000 at overseas transit points.

“The success of this vaccination campaign demonstrates our commitment to the health and well-being of arriving Afghan evacuees, the personnel assisting this mission, and the American people,” said Dr Pritesh Gandhi, the DHS chief medical officer.

Everyone coming from Afghanistan in the evacuation is also tested for Covid-19 and about 84 per cent of the refugees in the US and at overseas transit points have now been vaccinated for the virus, officials said.

The US flew out about 120,000 people in the chaotic days after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban in August.

They were a mix of US citizens, Afghans with legal permanent residency or who were applying for visas and refugee status along with their families.

Testifying before Congress last week, DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said the US admitted about 60,000 people from the evacuation of Afghanistan, about 7 per cent of whom are American citizens and about 6 per cent of whom are permanent residents.

About 3 per cent have, along with their families, received the special immigrant visa for people who worked for the US government or its allies during the war as interpreters or in some other capacity.

The rest are a combination of people who are in the process of finalizing their special immigrant visas or are considered likely candidates for refugee status.

They include human rights activists, journalists or others who are considered particularly vulnerable under Taliban rule. All undergo security vetting before they arrive in the US.

There are about 53,000 Afghans staying at eight US military bases receiving medical care and other assistance before they settle in the U.S.

Gen Glen VanHerck, head of US Northern Command, on Thursday said about 4,000 Afghans at the US bases have completed medical screening and the 21-day quarantine required after being vaccinated for measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox.

Updated: October 04, 2021, 11:20 PM