Afghan evacuees could start arriving at Camp Atterbury for temporary housing as soon as Friday, Gov. Eric Holcomb has announced.
During a press conference Wednesday morning, Holcomb and Indiana National Guard Adjutant General Brig. Gen. Dale Lyles outlined plans for housing evacuees who have aided the United States during its 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Holcomb said he was notified Tuesday that up to 5,000 Afghan evacuees will be flown in from the Middle East and Europe to Atterbury, with the first round of about 1,000 individuals coming in on Friday, over the weekend or early next week.
Both Holcomb and Lyles said all individuals will be vetted through a “multilayered” process by the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Defense, FBI and National Counterterrorism Center, among other agencies, before arriving to Indiana, and will be put on a medical hold for 14 days before potentially being allowed to leave the facility on a special immigrant visa.
Evacuees will be tested for COVID-19 multiple times before and upon arriving at Atterbury and will have access to the vaccine at the military base.
Atterbury, located on 46,000 acres of federally-owned property in Johnson County near Edinburgh, was selected as one of eight military facilities across the U.S. to temporarily house up to 50,000 refugees. The training base has the capability of housing 10,000 individuals in dorm-like barracks and is supported by “world-class” dining and medical treatment facilities, Lyles said.
Lyles said Atterbury, which was first notified of the potential mission a few weeks ago, could easily house more than 5,000 refugees if asked, and could even expand operations past 10,000 if needed.
Holcomb said federal funds will be used for the entire operation — not state dollars.
The Guard will be assisted by 800 military police and medical personnel coming in from Fort Hood in Texas, Holcomb said. Medical staff from Fort Knox in Kentucky will also be soon arriving, he said.
Army active duty members will arrive in supporting roles prior to the evacuees’ entry.
After the two-week medical hold expires, Lyles said it would be “single-digit weeks” until the evacuees are resettled. He said there are different priority groups for the visas, which have different rules as to when evacuees can leave the military base.
At this time, it’s unknown how many evacuees will resettle in Indiana. Holcomb said the state will welcome them, and some businesses have already pledged to provide work for the Afghans.
Nongovernment organizations will be handling placement of the evacuees following their departure from Atterbury, Holcomb said.
The Guard has been working with local law enforcement and will be heightening security during the temporary mission, Lyles said.