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Effort for 7,000 Afghan refuges wraps up at Camp Atterbury

EDINBURGH, Ind. (WISH) — The operation to help thousands of Afghan refugees at Camp Atterbury is wrapping up.

In 2021, the Johnson County military and civilian training post under the auspices of the Indiana National Guard was the beginning of a new journey for thousands of evacuees.

On Monday, Indiana and local leaders gathered at Camp Atterbury’s Joint Visitors Bureau to talk about how the place provided safety and hope for many.

In September, more than 7,000 Afghan evacuees made their way to seek help at Camp Atterbury, which is about a 40-minute drive south of downtown Indianapolis.

Aaron Batt, a U.S. Department of Homeland Security task force coordinator, said, “As soon as they arrived here at Camp Atterbury we began providing a safe and healthy environment.”

The Indiana National Guard faces challenges. Adj. Gen. R. Dale Lyles said, “We became notified very rapidly, and I will tell you some of the people that came here at one-day notice; our medical team … one day from San Diego.”

Quick thinking was credited with getting medical care, food, shelter and support to the evacuees during Operation Allies Welcome at Camp Atterbury.

Gov. Eric Holcomb said, “For our Guard to step forward so quickly and say, ‘What’s next?’ ‘We got this,’ that speaks well of our state.”

Some of the evacuees participated in the creation of a mural in a space for healing for those who’d faced violence in Afghanistan. Tiffany Black, an Indianapolis-based mural artist, said, “Each second, minute and hour that passed made people more vulnerable to violence and trauma. Symbols of their journey to the U.S. are layered outward” on the mural.

On Monday, less than 15 refugees remained. They were to depart this week.

For some, their journey continues with organizations that will help them navigate life in Indiana.

The artist said, “Now as Afghans begin their new lives here, they hope to share their beautiful culture with their new neighbors.”

Indiana leaders are hopeful that the evacuees will find added support they may need as they move forward.