Transportation

Afghan evacuees kept on planes for hours at Dulles while being screened

Afghan refugees arrive at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C.
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Afghan evacuees who have arrived at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia after fleeing the Taliban have waited on planes for more than 10 hours while being screened and processed by U.S. officials. 

The wait times, which were first reported by The Wall Street Journal, come as the U.S. government is faced with taking in tens of thousands of Afghan families, with officials saying that “just under 7,000” had arrived in the U.S. as of Friday.

The Journal initially reported Thursday that Afghan refugees were sitting on planes stacked up on the Dulles tarmac for up to 10 hours, though two people familiar with the situation told The Washington Post on Friday that some passengers have waited on recent arriving flights for nearly 12 hours. 

Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said in a press briefing Friday that he was aware of the reports on long processing times, noting, “they have proven accurate in the last couple of days.”

He went on to say that it was “really more an issue for Customs and Border Patrol and the process,” but added that officials by Friday morning had “worked through the difficulties and we believe that wait time now upon landing is going to get much, much shorter.”

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said in a separate briefing Friday that the long wait times could be explained by the specific requirements of the U.S. screening process. 

“Certainly, we are always working to improve the conditions for people who are coming to the country,” she explained. “But I think the important context here is why that is.” 

“And that is because our security vetting process is so thorough that even as people are vetted before they come — they go through a background check before they come — we implement multiple layers of checks, including a confirmation, in some cases, on landing,” she said. 

“In a limited number of cases… we have vetting processes that may be unresolved,” Psaki added. “Very limited, but that may lead to, at times, a delay in individuals being held on plane… so that we can have that process seen through.” 

As of Friday, the U.S. military had evacuated a total of about 111,000 people from Afghanistan since the end of July, including roughly 12,500 people on Thursday, the same day ISIS-K conducted a suicide bombing attack on the Kabul airport, killing 13 U.S. service members and at least 170 Afghan civilians.

President Biden has remained firm in sticking to his Aug. 31 deadline to complete all U.S. military evacuations of Americans, as well as Afghan civilians who qualify for Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs). 

The Pentagon said Friday that it had added three additional U.S. military bases to the list of installations being used to temporarily house Afghan refugees in the U.S., with a total of seven locations having the capacity to hold up to 50,000 Afghans and their families.

Tags Afghanistan evacuations Dulles International Airport Jen Psaki Joe Biden Military Taliban The Wall Street Journal The Washington Post Virginia
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