Thousands of Afghan evacuees – including unaccompanied children – have arrived in Ramstein Air Base in Germany, which has been turned into U.S. European Command’s primary evacuation hub.
Since August 20, the American Air Force base has received more than 11,000 evacuees – up from 6,500 earlier this week – and is set up to process 40 plane-loads of people a day. The base can hold up to 12,000 evacuees at once.
Base officials said about 2,500 of the 11,000 are already on the last leg of their journey to the United States.
To accommodate the large number of people, airplane hangars were quickly cleared and more than 350 tents were set up on the base’s ramps with more than 10,000 cots and sleeping bags.
Living conditions are basic. The encampment contains tents for prayer and medical services (which has been busy tending to gunshot wound victims and delivering a baby), showers, Porta Johns and space for recreation.
The base also quickly procured a contract with a local vendor to provide 30,000 meals per day. Dozens of pallets of water bottles are trucked in daily, and 14 water buffaloes provide additional water.
A father and child from Afghanistan walk together with a medical officer after their arrival to Ramstein Air Base on August 26
Recreation areas were set up at the Ramstein Air Base for Afghan evacuees , with children spotted playing on its apron
A military medic cares for a young child at the Ramstein Air Base on August 26. Some children have arrived there alone
More than 350 of these encampments have been set up on the base’s runways with prayer mats, showers, cots and sleeping bags
Evacuees from Afghanistan are seen at a temporary emergency shelter at the Ramstein Air Base on August 26
Some families were able to stick together – like the little girl and her family shown here boarding a plane from Kabul to Ramstein Air Base – but other families were separated
Reuniting families is a ‘complex challenge,’ Lt. Col. William Powell, chief of public affairs at the base, told The Washington Post
Many children arrived at the base safe but were separated from their parents and find themselves alone.
‘The other day we had a young man hurt his arm, and so the doctor picked him up and said, “Where’s your parents?” And he didn’t have his parents [with him], and the translators realized he was an unaccompanied minor,’ U.S. Brig. Gen. Josh Olsen told the media on Thursday.
‘When you see one of those kids come off [the plane] and smile, that’s my new neighbor,’ Olsen told CTVNews. ‘I have to take care of every single one of them and protect them.’
Afghan teenager Maryam Rezaie said she feels all alone after being separated from her family on the way to the Kabul airport.
Her dad worked for an American company and fled the Taliban so they wouldn’t be targeted.
She told NBC News that she can’t reach her family. They’re not online.
‘I’m here all alone and I have no one,’ Maryam said through tears. ‘I really don’t know what will happen to my family.’
A young boy peeps out of a tent set up to house people who’ve been evacuated from Afghanistan by US forces
Since August 20, Ramstein Air Base officials said the base has hosted more than 11,000 evacuees and about 2,500 of them are already on their way to the United States
An evacuated girl from Afghanistan sits in a temporary check-in hall and waits for a plane that will take her to Dallas in the United States at Ramstein Air Base on August 26
Evacuees from Afghanistan walk from a temporary tent to a bus at Ramstein Air Base on August 26
The military and State Department are doing everything they can to care for the children
Service members on the base have been doing everything they can care for and entertain unaccompanied children
Service members on the base have been doing everything they can care for and entertain unaccompanied children.
Ramstein Air Base officials said in they’ve been playing playing music for the younger children and set up recreation areas for the kids to play.
But military leaders realize this is at band-aid at best.
Reuniting families is a ‘complex challenge,’ Lt. Col. William Powell, chief of public affairs at the base, told The Washington Post.
He said he did not have a number for unaccompanied minors at the camp, but ‘anecdotally, I know they exist.’
A State Department official, who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity in line with protocol, said the U.S. government will do ‘everything in its power’ to bring families back together, but the ‘reality on the ground’ is daunting.
‘Most people arrive very tired, and there’s a lot of fear along with it,’ Jami Malcolm, a volunteer with the American Red Cross, which is providing food and hygiene items to evacuees after landing, told paper.
‘I think they are a little bewildered.’
There are an unknown number of unaccompanied minors at the Ramstein Air Base after being separated from their families at the Kabul airport
A U.S. military officer plays a ukulele for evacuees from Afghanistan at a waiting area at Ramstein Air Base on August 26
Thousands of evacuees are living in basic living conditions but have been given food, water and shelter at the Ramstein Air Base before they’re flown to the United States
Men carry food to their families at the Ramstein Air Base on August 26
Evacuees left nearly everything behind except the most basic of supplies
Evacuees from Afghanistan depart a Qatar Airways Boeing 777-300 aircraft at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, August 25
This is the inside of a hanger at Ramstein, which has been converted into a processing center for Afghan people