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Mayor, Congresswoman address Afghan evacuee rumors at Fort Pickett

Posted at 5:53 PM, Sep 09, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-09 18:22:11-04

BLACKSTONE, Va. -- Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D - 7th District) and Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn both said they have heard a number of rumors from the community related to safety concerns at Ft. Pickett where roughly 3,700 Afghan refugees were being processed following the fall of their country to the Taliban.

The pair toured the facility on Thursday and used the opportunity to dispel those rumors and see the situation firsthand.

"When you get bombarded with rumors you sort of have to take a deep breath and go, 'let's find out' so we did get better answers today," Coleburn said.

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Blackstone Mayor Billy Coleburn and Virginia Congresswoman Abigail Spanberger (D - 7th District)

Moments after touring what he called the "Afghan village" at Fort Pickett, Coleburn addressed those rumors with Spanberger.

"We have a lot of civilian folks who work at Fort Pickett and they'll say, 'Billy they're walking all over the place.' That is somewhat true, they are walking in their area that is assigned to the Afghan village," Coleburn said.

In particular, a rumor circulating that refugees are calling Ubers and leaving the Fort before being fully processed.

"These evacuees are not detainees, they are not prisoners, they have freedom, but if they leave the base before they are processed and gone through the proper protocol they forfeit their right to get a VISA," Coleburn said.

Spanberger said there have been folks who left the fort, but those refugees were actually American citizens.

Coleburn and Spanberger both said they felt confident about the security in place at Fort Pickett after seeing it first hand.

"Every person who comes through here goes through a significant biographic screening, security checks, comprehensive security checks, and an extensive medical process to include vaccinations for COVID-19," Spanberger said.

"They are doing another security survey to improve some of the security measures so far," Coleburn, whose daughter is a reporter at CBS 6 News, said.

Coleburn said a third of the Afghan refugees are women, one third are men, and the final third are children, including five babies born at the fort since evacuating Afghanistan.

He said they need baby supplies.

"Twenty-five thousand fluid ounces of baby formula a day right now, so formula and diapers are definitely something that is needed," Coleburn said.

Spanberger said the refugees are all being vaccinated against COVID and receiving any medical care they need.

She said once the refugees are fully processed, resettlement agencies will find homes and jobs for them.

"It is estimated they will go throughout the United States," Spanberger said.

Coleburn said Fort Pickett will ultimately process 10,000 refugees.