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 Report From Human Rights Watch.
An estimated 2,400 to 2,700 Afghans have been “arbitrarily detained” for more than 15 months in a housing facility called the UAE Humanitarian City, the group said in a report released on Tuesday. Not knowing what their future holds, months of being held in a prison-like facility took a serious toll on their physical and mental health.
“We are not criminals,” Ahmed, who lives at the facility, told the Huffington Post, requesting anonymity because he feared for his safety. “We had to leave because our lives were in danger and we should not be treated like prisoners.”
Most of those still in detention are unidentified. They are not eligible for immigrant visas and are not considered refugees because the UAE is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and cannot apply for asylum in a third country. But they are also often unaware of these complications because they do not have access to legal aid, according to the HRW report.
“We don’t know anything about this whole thing,” Ahmed said. “We don’t know why some people have flights and we don’t. We don’t know what’s going to happen next or who to turn to for help.”
Some 12,000 Afghan evacuees They were initially brought to the facility after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021. Some were airlifted by U.S. military aircraft as part of Operation Welcome Ally, and some U.S. veterans and NGOs arranged for civilian charter flights to carry more airlifts to the UAE after the operation ended. Many evacuees fled Afghanistan because they feared being persecuted or killed as ethnic or religious minorities, LGBTQ people, journalists, activists or judges.
people have repeatedly protest The process was slow and ambiguous, including unclear who prioritized continuing the flight. The U.S. has largely focused on resettling those who have ties to the U.S. and have been flown in under government action.
As of September 2022, the United States had cleared more than 88,000 Afghans to enter the country, but thousands remained pending entry into the country, including through special immigrant visas and the Refugee Admission Program, a visa issued to those who Served in the U.S. military and diplomatic missions. Other countries, including Canada, Australia and Germany, have also taken in some evacuees.
The evacuees who remained in the UAE were left to their fate, often comforted by false assurances.
“They had been promising us flights for months, but nothing happened,” Ahmed said.
“Governments should not ignore the appalling plight of these Afghans trapped in the UAE,” Human Rights Watch UAE researcher Joy Shea said in the report. “The US government in particular, which coordinated the 2021 evacuations and many of the evacuees worked with the Taliban before they took over, should step up intervention immediately to provide support and protection for these asylum seekers.”
Mara Tekach, State Department Relocation Coordinator for Afghanistan, explain In a letter to Human Rights Watch, the US remained committed to “relocating and resettling all eligible Afghans,” including “eligible Afghans” located in UAE facilities.
Afghans are being held in apartment blocks in industrial areas of Abu Dhabi that have been turned into makeshift refugee housing facilities. The management of the facility and the provision of essentials such as food, healthcare and education are under the control of the UAE government.
Families were provided with a small room, while single men were kept in separate halls and rooms shared with other single men, according to the HRW report.
Human Rights Watch spoke to 16 Afghan detainees who complained of poor facilities, including food quality and educational options for children.
The report also lists overcrowding, declining infrastructure and pest infestations. Movement is severely restricted. Only some essential hospital visits and rare group shopping – under strict supervision – are allowed out of the complex. The building is also off limits to outside visitors.
People with serious health problems that require specialized care struggle to access medical care, the report said. Many adults and children suffer from mental health problems such as depression, yet they do not receive adequate psychosocial support.
“Some even had suicidal thoughts,” Ahmed said. “Even the kids are frustrated and don’t know how to handle their day-to-day life.” He said his daughter, unable to make new friends or try new activities, had lost all motivation and had become completely quiet and had no interest in school.
“I care more about my children and their future,” Ahmed said. “We cannot turn back and there is no way forward.”