Over 2,000 Afghan evacuees detained in UAE: report

Over 2,000 Afghan evacuees detained in UAE: report

  • US News
  • March 16, 2023
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More than 2,000 Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban took power are being held indefinitely in the United Arab Emirates, according to a new report from Human Rights Watch.

An estimated 2,400 to 2,700 Afghans have been “arbitrarily” held in a residential facility called Emirates Humanitarian City for more than 15 months, the organization said in its report released on Tuesday. Having no idea what her future holds and being locked up in a prison-like facility for months has severely impacted her physical and mental well-being.

“We’re not criminals,” Ahmad, who lives at the facility and asked to be identified under an alias because he feared for his safety, told HuffPost. “We had to leave because our lives were in danger and we shouldn’t be treated like prisoners.”

The majority of those who remain in detention have no status. They are not eligible for immigrant visas, are not considered refugees as the UAE is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, and cannot seek asylum in a third country. But they’re also usually unaware of these complications because they don’t have access to legal counsel, according to the HRW report.

“We’re completely in the dark about this whole thing,” Ahmad said. “We don’t know why some got flights and we didn’t. We have no idea what’s next and we don’t know who to turn to.”

About 12,000 Afghan evacuees were initially brought to the facility after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. Some were flown out by US military planes as part of Operation Allies Welcome, and some US veterans and non-governmental groups arranged civilian charter flights to bring more people to the UAE after Airlift operations ended. Many of the evacuees had fled Afghanistan because they feared being persecuted or killed as ethnic or religious minorities, LGBTQ people, journalists, activists or judges.

People have repeatedly protested the slow and ambiguous process, including the lack of clarity over who has priority on onward flights. The US has focused primarily on relocating people who had ties to the US and were flown in as part of government operations.

As of September 2022, the United States had granted entry to over 88,000 Afghans, but thousands are still waiting to enter the country due to pending statuses, including through the Special Immigrant Visa and the Refugee Admission Program, a type of visa issued to those who served with US military and diplomatic missions. Other countries including Canada, Australia and Germany have also taken in some evacuees.

The evacuees who remain in the UAE have been left to their own devices, often comforted with false assurances.

“They have been promising us flights for months and nothing has happened yet,” Ahmad said.

Afghans demonstrated on February 13, 2022 at an Afghan refugee camp in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, to protest non-extradition to the United States.Afghans demonstrated on February 13, 2022 at an Afghan refugee camp in Abu Dhabi, capital of the United Arab Emirates, to protest non-extradition to the United States.

Only Photo via Getty Images

“Governments should not ignore the shocking plight of these Afghans stranded in limbo in the UAE,” said Joey Shea, UAE researcher at Human Rights Watch, in the report. “In particular, the US government, which coordinated the evacuations in 2021 and with whom many evacuees worked with before the Taliban took power, should step in and step in immediately to provide assistance and protection to these asylum-seekers.”

Mara Tekach, the State Department’s coordinator of Afghan resettlement efforts, said in a letter to HRW that the US remains committed to “relocating and resettling all eligible Afghans,” including “eligible Afghans” who are in the UAE facility .

Afghans are being held in apartment buildings in an industrial area of ​​Abu Dhabi that have been converted into temporary housing for refugees. The administration of the facility and the provision of basic goods such as food, health care and education are under the control of the UAE government.

Families are given a small room, according to the HRW report, while single men are accommodated in separate hallways and in shared rooms with other single men.

Human Rights Watch spoke to 16 Afghan detainees, all of whom complained about the poor condition of the facility, including the quality of food and school opportunities for children.

The report also lists complaints of overcrowding, infrastructure degradation and insect infestations. Movement is severely restricted. Only a few essential hospital visits and infrequent group shopping – under careful supervision – are allowed outside the complex. The building is also closed to external visitors.

According to the report, people with serious health problems who need specialized care have had difficulties accessing medical care. Many adults and children suffer from mental illnesses such as depression but do not receive adequate psychosocial support.

“Some people even have suicidal thoughts,” Ahmad said. “Even kids are depressed and don’t know what to do with their everyday lives.” He said his daughter, unable to make new friends or try new activities, has lost all motivation and has become completely quiet and has no interest in the school.

“I’m more worried about my children and their future,” Ahmad said. “We can’t go back, and there’s no way forward either.”

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