JOHNSON COUNTY, Ind. — Governor Eric Holcomb landed by U.S. Army helicopter at Camp Atterbury this morning to view Operation Allies Welcome and meet some of the 7,200 Afghan evacuees who left their homes last August and have so much in common with his own ancestors who arrived in America in the 1800s.
“This blueprint to, or this pathway to, their journey to peace and security and happiness.”
Currently, 4,100 evacuees remain at the camp awaiting resettlement.
“I anticipate this winding down by the end of this year,” said Holcomb.
Indiana is slated to become the new home of 719 evacuees from across the United States.
“As of today, we’re at about 250 of that number,” said Aaron Batt, lead coordinator for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “As far as locations, that includes Muncie, Hammond, Bloomington, Indianapolis of course, South Bend, Fort Wayne, even Terre Haute and potentially even Evansville.”
Some of those new Hoosiers have already found jobs.
“For the people we work with — mostly in Marion County but also in the surrounding areas around Marion County — most of our jobs are pick-and-pack jobs, warehouse jobs, especially ramping up here at the end of the holiday season, going into the holiday season, so the Amazons, Walmarts,” said Cole Varga, executive director of Exodus, an immigrant resettlement agency.
“Very, very open to hiring and paying very good wages nowadays to help bring our refugees and Afghan folks in,” she continued.
State agencies are helping prepare the evacuees for resettlement with school, health care, language and job skills services.
“They need help with speaking English and/or learning computers, preparing resumes and really preparing for a job interview,” said Fred Payne, director of Indiana Workforce Development.
“We’ll hire everyone that wants a job,” said the governor, who paraphrased the feedback state officials and agencies have received from employers. “’I’ll hire 50. I’ll hire 100. I’ll hire how many you got.’”
“We have seen with this heart of gold in Indiana, I think they filled every warehouse in the state of Indiana with donated items to help on this new path forward when you get resettled,” said Ambassador Christine Elder of the U.S. State Department.
Officials said Camp Atterbury was the leading resettlement site in the country in accepting donated goods for the evacuees and the upcoming holidays will be memorable for the children still left at the base.
“This week we took delivery of 26 pallets from Toys for Tots that included 13,000 pounds of toys and over 15,000 different toys. We’re working, of course, to distribute those,” said Batt.
“In terms of the holiday week, we are going to keep them fed and their bellies full,” Varga said of the culturally appropriate menu on tap for Thanksgiving. “We’ve cleaned out every Halal market we could find in the area.”
Nahid Sharifi, an evacuee who has chosen to continue her doctoral studies at Indiana University, choked back tears as she recalled the family members left in Kabul the day she fled her homeland for an uncertain future halfway around the globe three months ago.
“I have a message to the people of the United States and I want to say that…people of the United States have the heart of the gold. Thank you so much for everything.
“In this case, I would like to study at the Bloomington university because I’m sure that I know that all my dreams come true. The United States is the land of opportunity and I would like to study in the United States.”
Governor Holcomb said the state of Indiana welcomes its new residents.
“We’ll figure it out. Don’t speak English? We’ll figure that out. I hope that we’re an example of a state the figures it out.”