INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — More than 6,600 Afghan refugees who began arriving at the Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury training post nearly six weeks ago are awaiting resettlement.
Additional evacuees are expected to arrive in the coming weeks, although it’s unclear how many, said Mark Howell, regional spokesman for the federal Transportation Security Administration overseeing Operation Allies Welcome.
Officials said they’re also uncertain if the refugees will be permanently resettled by early November, as hoped. Howell said in a telephone interview Friday that many Afghans are still completing medical and security screening checks. Once cleared, they’ll work with nongovernmental organizations to determine housing assignments, sponsor families and work authorizations before they can leave the post.
Camp Atterbury, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Indianapolis, is one of eight sites in the U.S. that the Department of Defense is using for Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other Afghan personnel.
The U.S. military expects to begin receiving new Afghan evacuees in the United States this week, including at Camp Atterbury.
U.S. officials said last week that about 14,000 more Afghans are expected to come to the U.S. About 53,000 are already scattered across eight military installations in the U.S.; Capacity is 64,000.
They have been delayed by a measles outbreak, medical checks and a vaccination campaign, as well as immigration processing, which involves interviews, biometric exams and applications for work permits. Afghan evacuees waiting at U.S. bases in the Middle East, Spain and Germany can be flown in only once space opens up.
About 100 refugees have completed their health and safety screenings and left Camp Atterbury, Howell said. They were all American citizens, spouses of American citizens or green card holders.
Exodus Refugee Immigration, an Indianapolis agency, has helped at least four Afghan families resettle in the city in the last month, said executive director Cole Varga. They were all U.S. citizens or had visas and family ties to the Indianapolis area. None of them came from Camp Atterbury, but rather from one of the other U.S. military facilities housing refugees, Varga said.
It’s unclear how many Afghans have resettled in Indiana, but the state is projected to take 490, according to U.S. officials. They could be processed at any of the eight temporary housing sites, Howell said.
Of those housed at Camp Atterbury, about 58% are male, 42% are female and more than 47% are 18 years or younger, Howell said. Eight babies have been born there since refugees first arrived Sept. 2.
More than 6,100 Afghan refugees at Camp Atterbury have been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella and varicella (chickenpox) between Sept. 6-17, according to National Guard officials.
The evacuees must be vaccinated against measles, COVID-19, and other diseases before they can leave the temporary housing site.
Camp Atterbury has so far confirmed 24 cases of COVID-19 among Afghan refugees, Howell said. Individuals who test positive, as well as any family members they’ve traveled with, are quarantined on-site. Refugees are tested for the coronavirus every other week, Howell said.
Soldiers and volunteer teachers have also started a makeshift school for Afghan children while they await resettlement.
Roughly 39 girls and 38 boys are being taught the basics of the English alphabet and some simple words at Camp Atterbury, Howell said, and more educational and cultural awareness services are being developed.
Casey Smith is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.