LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. — Loudoun County has been selected as a safe haven for asylum seekers from Afghanistan.
The National Conference Center in Leesburg will be the site of the Operation Allies Welcome program, an effort to resettle American Afghan allies before they go to permanent homes across the country.
County leaders had previously announced the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was considering the county for its operation and a community meeting was scheduled for Thursday night. At the start of that meeting, Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis Randall announced the contract had been signed.
Starting next month officials said the U.S. Government allies and their families will begin staying at the conference center for a couple of weeks, enough time for them to be resettled elsewhere.
The program is set to last through September.
The announcement did not come as welcome news for some at Thursday's community meeting.
“I want to help Afghan refugees who have helped us. What happened over there was horrible but there are some people here who do not belong in this country and I’m scared for my grandkids and scared for my neighbors," a speaker said during the meeting.
“They are our allies, we leaned on them for 20 years. These families if they go back to Afghanistan will be killed by the Taliban, that’s who these are," Loudoun County Supervisor Michael Turner said.
Government officials said Thursday no more than a thousand people will stay at the site per month, and the evacuees will be shuttled in and out at off-peak times as to not add to the community’s traffic and they will not leave the conference center, with the goal to not impact the community at all.
However, some members of the community still expressed concerns.
“The quality of life is going to go down but there’s a safety issue for our kids. there’s a high school and junior high a hundred yards from here,” a public speaker said.
“They just want a chance and I hope we can work together to provide them that chance," Robert Fenton with Operation Allies Welcome said.
Officials have reiterated that the evacuees would have been screened by the U.S. government and they would live in Loudoun County for about two to four weeks before moving to another home somewhere in the country and would have all of their vaccinations.
About 65% of asylum seekers would be women and children and would have received appropriate vaccinations and COVID-19 tests. Other refugees would possibly be judges, prosecutors, special immigration visa holders, teachers, interpreters and guides for the military, women's rights activists, journalists, and family members of American citizens, Randall and Turner said in a statement last week.
Randall and Turner wrote that any site set up as a location for asylum seekers would be federalized and that other safe havens that have been set up have experienced few law enforcement incidents.