More Afghan refugees arrive at Camp Atterbury

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INDIANAPOLIS — 130 more Afghan evacuees arrived at Camp Atterbury on Sunday. Another 130 will arrive Monday to join the estimated 6400 Afghan citizens who fled their homeland in the last two months hoping to establish new lives for their families in the United States.

Hundreds of them may settle in Indiana.

“The most important thing is resettlement, housing, and getting continuous help after they come out of the camp,” said Imam Ahmed Alamine of the Indianapolis Muslim Community Association. “Because the challenge will really start after they resettle and first is where will they resettle, second, once they resettle, how to navigate through life.”

Nearly 50 Muslim community leaders met with Homeland Security officials at the Islamic Society of North American in Plainfield to determine how the wider community can help transition the evacuees into American life.

“The government doesn’t have to do everything,” said Imam Alamine. “We know the government has done a lot and will continue to do things but there are things that the communities need to do to supplement what the government is doing.”

Central Indiana Muslim sisters have already begun a women’s empowerment group on the base for the mothers who traditionally shoulder the greatest burden of childcare.

“Men and women are separated at the bases and the children tend to be with the mothers,” said Lori Joundi of the Muslim Alliance of Indiana. “They try to make sure that the husbands and the wives and the kids are kind of in the same area so that they can help each other and spend time together, but I think sharing most of the workload is the hardest part for these mothers. They don’t really get much of a break. It takes a village to raise children.”

40 percent of the Camp Atterbury Afghan population is under the age of 15, 15 percent under the age of four, and the camp needs an estimated seven thousand diapers a day to serve the needs of a community where the average size of a family is 7.5 people.

Each day truckloads of supplies from throughout central Indiana as well as from Chicago and Michigan arrive at Camp Atterbury carrying donations from both the Muslim and Christian communities.

Evacuees need warm winter coats and clothing, shoes, toys, sporting good, Korans and other religious supplies to replace what was left behind in Afghanistan or lost on their flight to freedom.

A federal contractor recently held a job fair in Edinburgh as approximately 400 people applied for 100 food service and custodial jobs to serve the evacuees.

“They are very empowered,” said Sister Lori. “These are not people who expect everyone to do everything for them. They are very capable and they want to learn and I think that’s very important to know that they want to be part of the American society to contribute and they’re very thankful to start their lives over in somewhere safe.”

Thus far, 21 people have transitioned off the base and into their new communities and later this week Homeland Security will release guidelines explaining how community groups and individuals can sponsor evacuees.

By the end of the week, more than 80% of the evacuees will find their paperwork in order to leave if a sponsor can be found.

Indiana has been projected to take 490 resettled Afghans.

23 evacuees have tested positive for COVID (most likely caught from Americans on the base according to officials) and have been vaccinated. There have been no cases of measles.

There have been ten births and one wedding at Camp Atterbury since the evacuees’ arrival last month.

While applicants for service jobs were told last week they should expect to work six and seven-day weeks for a guaranteed six months and perhaps more, Aaron Batt, federal coordinator of the program at Camp Atterbury, said he is committed to serving at the base at least through the end of the year when federal officials may consider consolidating some of the eight camps across the country hosting evacuees.

Attendees told Homeland Security officials to rely more on Muslim community members to assist evacuees with issues of PTSD, job readiness and basic life skills.

“Everybody is going through a learning curve,” said Sister Lori. “Whether these people are from Kabul or a more remote area, it is a learning curve for all of them. They’ve been completely uprooted. Language is definitely going to be a barrier for those that don’t speak English.”

“These will be your neighbors,” said Imam Alamine who serves as an IMPD chaplain. “We want to give them the best impression of Hoosier hospitality.”

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