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Amidst Uncertainty Abroad, Virginia Prepares to Expand Capacity for Displaced Afghans

Sign at entrance to Marine Corps Base Quantico
Traffic drives past the entrance sign of Marine Corps Base Quantico Thursday, Aug. 26, 2021, in Quantico, Va. Afghan refugees who have been prescreened by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security have been taken to Quantico, Fort Lee as well as Ft. Pickett. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

The state of evacuations from Kabul is uncertain following blasts at the Hamid Karzai International Airport on Thursday, but Virginia is still prepared to welcome more Afghan refugees and immigrants in the coming days.

Gov. Ralph Northam confirmed “contingency” plans to use Fort Pickett and Marine Corps Base Quantico to house immigrants, “anticipating more individuals that will be evacuated.” Many Special Immigrant Visa holders and applicants have already left the country.

Fort Pickett, a Virginia Army National Guard base southwest of Richmond in Nottoway County, is able to hold 3,800 people, but Northam said the base could eventually hold as many as 10,000, should the need arise. The fort expects its first group of SIV holders and applicants  on Saturday.

Quantico is also expecting its first group of Afghan immigrants this weekend - 1,000 are set to arrive Sunday. That’s the current capacity, although there are plans to increase that number to 5,000.

Fort Lee continues to hold about 1,750 people, and Northam says it has processed over 8,000 immigrants as part of the evacuation effort. He says the average time individuals have stayed in Fort Lee has been about five days.

Dulles International Airport has been the point of entry for over 14,000 Americans and refugees as of 7 AM Friday While Dulles remains the only point of entry, Northam says there are plans to open a second point of entry in Philadelphia. However, Dulles would still remain the primary point of entry.

Of the 14,000 Afghan refugees and military personnel that have arrived at Dulles, Northam says less than 20 have tested positive for COVID-19. Those individuals are being held in quarantine, most in Loudoun County. 

“If people are saying that this mission is bringing COVID to the United States, it’s simply not true,” the governor said during a call with reporters Friday.

Virginia has set up two mass vaccination sites to attend people coming from Afghanistan. One of them is at the Washington Dulles Airport Marriott hotel, where an emergency repatriation center is available to American citizens. The second site is located at the Dulles Expo Center, where non-citizens are being processed. 

Editor's Note: This article was updated with new information from a press event Friday morning.