LA CROSSE, Wisc. (WLAX) — Wisconsin will play a critical role in the international rescue movement stemming from Afghanistan with thousands of refugees to come to Fort McCoy located outside of La Crosse.
The base is prepared to house a couple thousand refugees; however, they are preparing for even more.
“Right now, we think we can get up 22,000 [refugees] in relatively short order here over the next coming days and weeks,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.
Fort McCoy will be one of three bases housing the refugees.
Lawmakers said the United States has a duty to try to protect those who helped American forces in Afghanistan.
“We have a commitment to those that truly helped the United States government during our 20 years in Afghanistan,” Congressman Bryan Steil said. “We have to make sure that those individuals are provided free safety and free passage out of Afghanistan.”
Steil said he is also concerned about Americans trapped in Afghanistan.
“We had an individual in the Special Forces reach out to my office,” Steil said. “He is aware of 40 individuals trapped in Kabul with sensitive information.
The refugees coming into Wisconsin will be given a COVID-19 test; however, at this time, vaccinations will not be required.
In addition to the humanitarian efforts, housing refugees at the Wisconsin fort could have an economic impact on the area.
“What’s happening at Fort McCoy, behind the fence, you have a city, basically; a city that shows up within days, just appears within days; and people working around the clock, 24 hours a day running this city,” Monroe County historian Jarrod Roll said.
Roll explained this is what occurred in 1980 when Cuban refugees were brought to Fort McCoy. The influx of people actually created a temporary surge for the struggling economy at the time.
“When the refugees came to Fort McCoy, there was an instant demand for workers out there, anybody from cleanup crew to the cooks,” Roll said.
Roll expects that to again be seen in Western Wisconsin.