‘Born as a US citizen’: Afghan refugees welcome newborns to US | News about refugees

Fort McCoy Military Base, Wisconsin, USA – Ahmadzai * had imagined the birth of his first child as a typical Afghan family affair with relatives who visited his home in Kabul to deliver embroidered baby clothes and other gifts and recite the Koran to celebrate it.

But Ahmadzai’s first child was born in a Wisconsin hospital and then brought back to Fort McCoy military base, where his family and thousands of other Afghan refugees await immigration treatment after being evacuated from Afghanistan amid the Taliban’s takeover.

Ahmadzai, 25, like other parents of newborns in Fort McCoy, said it was bittersweet to welcome a new baby to camp.

“It would have been great if we had the baby in Kabul and everyone was with my family,” he told Al Jazeera. “Our happiness would have been doubled.”

He expressed gratitude for the security and opportunity that his new framework offers; he also lamented that he missed the rituals and shared the joy of the extended family that accompanies the birth of a new child in Afghanistan.

Ahmadzai’s new son, Yasir, is one of more than 250 babies born to Afghan evacuees at US military bases since US troops withdrew from Afghanistan in late August, according to the U.S. Army.

“Families of newborns receive necessities such as breast milk substitutes, diapers, napkins and clothing from a variety of both governmental and non-governmental organizations,” a spokesman for the U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) told Al Jazeera in an email.

At Fort McCoy, families ask the U.S. Army for anything else they may need. The Red Cross is also active at the base to provide humanitarian aid.

Missing family

Ahmadzai, who had worked at a US military base in Afghanistan, said he had no choice but to flee his country when the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul in mid-August as US and NATO troops withdrew. .

Now he and his family live in one of the two-story barracks that houses thousands of Afghans at Fort McCoy. Each family hangs Red Cross-provided curtains and rugs to create private space inside the buildings.

There are about 30 people living on each floor. Families are allocated a space for beds and a small area to socialize and eat.

“We are happy that our boy was born safe and sound, but we are also disappointed that we are in a foreign country right now,” Ahmadzai said.

In Kabul, relatives bring gifts for the newborn – clothes, swings, prams, blankets, cribs and toys.

The family also gathers for recitation of the Qur’an in its entirety known as “Khatm ul Quran” on the sixth night of the child’s life.

In the United States, Ahmadzai’s family received mostly verbal congratulations from other evacuees in their building.

“Everyone’s situation is the same here – what we wear and eat here, everyone does the same thing, so no one complains,” he said.

Another baby, Mohammad, was born on November 2nd. Abad, his father, said he is grateful for the medical treatment his wife received during and after his pregnancy.

Mohammad is the family’s third child; they have two daughters aged 5 and 3 years.

“I am so happy that my son was born a US citizen,” Abad told Al Jazeera. “When he grows up, he will be in a mixed community of Afghans and Americans, which will be great for him.”

He said he looks forward to arranging a ceremony and inviting Afghan and American neighbors to a feast when he is formally resident in the United States.

“It would have been difficult for my son to study well and become a successful person in Afghanistan because of the fighting and the destruction there,” Abad said. “They have very good institutions of education here, and my son wants access to them.”

Originally from Afghanistan’s eastern Khost province, Abad said he would try to teach his children Afghan culture and customs.

“I think my son is very lucky to be born here; we were born and raised in war and we have seen bloodshed in our country throughout our lives so he is lucky to be born in a peaceful country, ”he said.

Chaotic evacuations

While Abad and his family consider themselves lucky, the chaotic American withdrawal left many Afghans working with American forces. The Taliban’s rapid advance toward Kabul in August spurred a huge evacuation operation to help U.S. citizens, allies and third-country nationals leave the country.

While the U.S. administration says it helped lift more than 124,000 from Kabul between the Taliban’s takeover and the departure of the last U.S. soldier from the country, the operation was plagued by violence and disorder.

Footage showed Afghans hanging on departing planes from Kabul airport the day after the Taliban captured the city. A suicide bomber in the crowd at one of the airport gates killed at least 175 people on August 25, including 13 U.S. officials.

At least three babies were born during the evacuation. An Afghan woman gave birth in the hold of a C-17 aircraft on an evacuation flight and two others at the US military base in Ramstein, Germany. The U.S. State Department’s rules mean that none of the three are automatic U.S. citizens because the plane and the overseas base are not considered U.S. soil.

An Afghan family brought to the United States during the operation has still not found its infant after transferring the then two-month-old to U.S. forces during the riot at Kabul airport.

Immigration advocates have criticized Washington for not speeding up the processing of special immigrant visas for U.S. allies after deciding to withdraw its forces from the country.

Back at Fort McCoy, families say they are relieved to be in the United States.

Safi, an Afghan evacuee who had worked with U.S. forces, is expecting a newborn daughter in two months. He said he and his wife are happy that their child will be born in a more peaceful environment than they had experienced growing up.

“Look at it this way, I have been working with US forces for many years, then waited for four years to get special immigrant visas, but was finally evacuated in a very bad situation,” Safi told Al Jazeera. “But my daughter automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when she is born.”

The expected baby will be the second daughter and fourth child in Safi’s family.

“I have always dreamed of a peaceful and free country to live in, where my children can study and build their lives,” he said. “Now my dream has come true by coming to America.”

* All interviewees are identified by pseudonyms or first names due to security concerns.

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