The pace of flights bringing Afghanistan evacuees to Philadelphia has dramatically accelerated, more than doubling the number of new arrivals to 2,386 in a day.
After a first few planes landed over the weekend, eight came Monday and six more are expected Tuesday, ferrying people who escaped from a violent Kabul and now are living in camps in nations around the world.
Mayor Jim Kenney provided the new information Tuesday, saying the city would welcome evacuees for “as long as it takes.”
The greeting and processing operation at Philadelphia International Airport is scheduled to continue at least through Sept. 17.
“I view us as Ellis Island for the Afghans,” Kenney said, speaking before a first-day-of-school event at diverse George Washington High School, where students from 70 countries speak 28 languages.
After the first stop in Philadelphia, most evacuees are being taken to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst in South Jersey. Eventually those now arriving in Philadelphia will be resettled in other towns, though an as-yet unknown number are likely to make the city their home.
“We welcome any and all new residents,” Kenney said, “and are committed to helping them get the resources they need to thrive in our neighborhoods and our schools.”
Tuesday morning the mayor of Chicago shared that an airport there may join Philadelphia International and Dulles, near Washington, as the nation’s third major landing site, Kenney said.
The last U.S. military flights have left Kabul, meeting President Joe Biden’s Tuesday deadline to end the 20-year war and leaving behind numbers of people who assisted the American effort and now face retribution, even death, at the hands of the Taliban.
What the White House called the largest noncombatant evacuation in U.S. military history has brought 122,000 out of Afghanistan since the end of July.
Those arriving in Philadelphia — who may be Afghan nationals, U.S. citizens, asylum-seekers, or hold any of a variety of legal statuses — are being met by staff from about 35 city, state, and federal agencies, from hospitals and nonprofit organizations. The city turned a closed Terminal A-East into a staging and processing area, entered by evacuees after they have left the planes and been cleared through customs.
The city is providing familiar, culturally appropriate food along with hygiene products and other supplies, and books and stuffed animals for children. Interpretation is provided in Dari, Pashto, Urdu, and Farsi, and space has been designated for prayer and religious observance.
Everyone is being tested for COVID-19, and new arrivals may be vaccinated if they wish. The mayor declined to provide information on that testing, saying it was private medical information.
“Everything seems to be running pretty smooth,” he said, adding that the evacuees complain less than the typical domestic traveler.
“These folks to me are just phenomenally strong, brave, and patient,” he said, noting that children come down the airport escalator, grab a teddy bear and some snacks, “and half an hour later they’re running playing tag with each other and just being kids.”