EDINBURGH, Ind. (WISH) — Within a matter of days, the first Afghanistan evacuees will be arriving at Camp Atterbury, located in south central Indiana. As their arrival approaches, many Hoosiers have found themselves with questions about their new neighbors. Gov. Eric Holcomb and Gen. Dale Lyles, Adjutant General of Indiana, held a press conference on Wednesday addressing many of these questions.
How many refugees are coming?
Refugees will be arriving at Camp Atterbury in increments of 1,000, Holcomb said, and the camp is prepared to hold up to 5,000 evacuees. However, Lyles noted that Camp Atterbury has the capacity to hold 10,000 individuals if needed.
Are they vetted?
Refugees coming to Camp Atterbury are being put through a four-step “multiagency, multilayer, multidimensional” process to ensure proper and thorough vetting, Lyles said.
The vetting involves Homeland Security, the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Commission, as well as other intelligence agencies.
The process begins before leaving Kabul — each refugee’s credentials are checked before they set foot on a plane. Once in the Middle East or Europe, the refugees go through a “very robust vetting process,” Lyles said.
Upon landing in the United States, the refugees are put through another thorough vetting process, which is repeated upon arrival at Camp Atterbury.
“We absolutely know who they are, we know what their visa requirements are and we know that they are safe,” said Lyles.
Are they being medically screened?
After arriving at Camp Atterbury, Lyles said that the evacuees will go through a thorough medical screening and be placed on a medical hold status for about 14 days.
Will they be vaccinated for COVID-19?
Camp Atterbury will be offering and administering the COVID-19 vaccine, Lyles said, as well as administering other necessary vaccines.
Will they have access to mental health services?
“The resiliency of all the evacuees will be tested because they have been through a very traumatic four weeks or five weeks,” said Lyles. “We recognize that as a preexisting condition when they land, and we are setting the conditions to help with that.”
Lyles said that there are medical health professionals who have volunteered their help to assist with the evacuees at the camp.
When will they be able to leave Camp Atterbury?
The refugees’ visa statuses will determine when they are able to leave the camp, Lyles said.
“A special immigrant visa comes with certain rights to leave Camp Atterbury after the 14 days of medical screening, because they have been vetted properly to allow them to leave camp Atterbury,” said Lyles. “Then there are priority one, priority two or other levels of visa that will determine when the evacuees can actually leave Camp Atterbury.”
How much does it cost to house the refugees?
“There is no burden on the state for this,” said Lyles. “This is a complete federal mission.”
Lyles noted that funding is pouring in from the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security, and those funds have been made readily available to Camp Atterbury.
Will the evacuees who are granted permanent residence stay in Indiana?
“There is a process that has to be conducted first and foremost, and … we want to be there on the back-end of that process to welcome these evacuees to permanent freedom,” said Holcomb.
Many of the evacuees will have familial draws around the nation that may take them away from Indiana, Holcomb said, but he hopes “some of this talent stays close.”
“I do believe that folks will fall in love with indiana as much as we have,” he said.
What is camp Atterbury?
With 46,000 acres of land, Camp Atterbury is a mostly federally-owned property where the National Guard, reserve units and active duty units can train for wartime missions, Lyles explained.
“It has the capability of housing over 10,000 people — soldiers, usually — in dorm-like barracks that are supported by world-class dining facilities, as well as a medical treatment facility that is actually there at Camp Atterbury,” he said.
The camp is supported by 110 state employees and about 220 soldiers.
“Camp Atterbury is well-prepared. It’s got the right facilities to conduct this temporary mission, and we’ve got the right processes in place to do this mission and to do it right,” Lyles said.
How can Hoosiers help?
“There has been an outpouring of donations that’s beyond belief. It truly is amazing — all of the Hoosier care and kindness that’s on display right now really makes me proud to both be a Hoosier and an American,” said Lyles. “We are in the process of setting up a formal method for receiving donations and then processing those donations … and getting them into the right hands of the evacuees. That process is still emerging.”
However, Lyles said, anyone eager to help can call the Indiana National Guard at 317-247-3559 and provide their contact information. That information will be recorded and put into the right hands once the process is built, Lyles said.