First look at the conditions at Fort McCoy; Afghan refugees say things are improving
FORT MCCOY, Wis. (CBS 58) -- For the first time, reporters got the chance to get a tour of Fort McCoy, a military base responsible for housing nearly 13,000 Afghan refugees.
Officials at the base illustrated living conditions, classrooms, refugees playing soccer and the teamwork it took to transform a military base into a community environment.
Over the last two months, thousands of Afghan refugees have been housed at Fort McCoy, and lawmakers have raised questions about the living conditions and whether the refugees are being properly vetted.
The guided tour by military officials comes after Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-WI 4th) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN 5th) called for an investigation after reports of refugees not getting enough food and clothes.
Officials emphasized that refugees' needs are being met and showed off where meals are prepared, where refugees can get clothing and how men, women and families are housed in barracks.
"The soldiers are providing daily housing assistance, addressing immediate needs of the guests and just making sure they have everything they need to get them along with the process," said Lt. Col. Jeremy Prince, one of the task force mayors at Fort McCoy.
Some Afghan refugees shared their experience with reporters after fleeing their county and being transferred to Wisconsin. They said things are improving each day after reports of poor conditions.
"They are doing their best and I feel day by day they are getting better, no complaints from my perspective," a refugee shared. "To me, everything is fine. It's a big base and we can walk around, spend time with others.
Reporters were also shown the eight areas officials called neighborhoods, where refugees live, have access to community centers and places to worship.
Angie Salazar, coordinator for Operation Allies at Fort McCoy, reiterated all refugees are being properly vetted, a process that starts before they arrive in the U.S. and continues at the base. Republicans in Congress have raised concerns over the process after two refugees are facing charges of sex crimes at Fort McCoy.
"Our guest are currently completing immigration paperwork, including employment authorization and health screenings, to prepare them for their resettlement," Salazar said.