Feds Miss Self-Imposed Deadline For Resettling Afghan Refugees Waiting in Indiana

Around 4,100 Afghan refugees at the Indiana National Guard's Camp Atterbury must wait longer for resettlement after the government missed its self-imposed deadline.

The refugees have waited more than two months, according to The Associated Press. During a news conference, Aaron Batt, Department of Homeland Security coordinator for Operation Allies Welcome, said resettlement efforts were postponed because of limited resources and the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials set a goal for the refugees to resettle by early November. The new goal is for the remaining refugees to receive resettlement assignments by the end of the year. However, Batt said the holiday season and winter weather could delay the timeline to as late as early 2022.

A total of 7,200 refugees have been through Camp Atterbury, one of the eight locations in the U.S. that the Department of Defense is using to temporarily house Afghan special immigrant visa applicants, their families, and other Afghan personnel. Of those 7,200, around 3,100 received their health and safety screenings then left the base. The refugees are required to be vaccinated against measles, COVID, and other diseases before they can leave.

Indiana is host to about 250 resettled Afghans. Although they were expected to have 490, officials said on Tuesday the state has now committed to hosting 719 refugees, who could be processed at any of the eight locations.

Camp Atterbury isn't expected to have any more incoming refugees, Batt said.

Executive director Cole Varga said Exodus Refugee Immigration, an Indianapolis agency, has aided numerous Afghan families in resettlement over the past two months. Although many have been put in Indianapolis, others could and will get placed in other cities, such as Bloomington, Fort Wayne, Muncie, South Bend, Evansville, Terre Haute, and Hammond.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Eric Holcomb, Afghan Refugees, Camp Atterbury, Resettlement
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb joined state and federal officials at the Indiana National Guard's Camp Atterbury, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021 in Edinburgh, Ind, to provide updates on the roughly 4,100 Afghan refugees still waiting at the base to be resettled in the United States. Casey Smith/Report for America via AP

"There's so much pride and passion ... and a reminder that all of our purpose while we're here is to help them, to help our neighbors. As far away from where they come from, they're here at home in Indiana and in this country," Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb said Tuesday.

Indiana Department of Workforce Development commissioner Fred Payne said the state agency is also helping refugees resettling in Indiana to find jobs. More than 150 employers in Indiana have told the agency that a collective 4,000 job openings are available to refugees, Payne said.

"We're now doing anything from hosting virtual job fairs and making introductions to training and skilling people up for the specific roles that the employers have available to them," Payne said. "We're really trying to ensure that we're doing every single thing that we can to set the people and their employers up for success."

Some Afghans have prior education or training already and are being paired with employers based on those skillsets, Payne said. Other refugees are being offered various job training to prepare them for available openings in the state's workforce.

Varga said Amazon and Walmart have offered "numerous" jobs to some of the refugees being assisted by the resettlement agency.

Officials said an outpouring of donated goods such as food, clothing and toys has been critical to helping the refugees acclimate. Indiana National Guard officials noted that almost 75% of all items that have been donated to the eight temporary housing sites originated from Camp Atterbury.

"That doesn't just happen. ... That is coming from inside, that is coming from who we are," Holcomb said of the donations.

Hoosiers can still donate needed items to the Camp Atterbury refugees through a regional collection system.

Closes-toed shoes in all sizes, men's pants, bras, bottle brushes and fingernail clippers are the most needed, according to the Indiana Department of Homeland Security. New items in original packaging will be accepted Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the nine Indiana National Guard armories across the state.

Afghan Refugees, Resettlement, Delay, Camp Atterbury
There have been a total at 7,200 Afghan refugees at Camp Atterbury, one of the eight sites housing refugees. The remaining 4,100 may have to wait until early 2022 to receive housing assignments for resettlement now. In this photo, a US military service member plays with an Afghan girl in an Afghan refugee camp on November 4, 2021 in Holloman Air Force Base, New Mexico. Jon Cherry/Getty Images