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More than 2,000 Afghans still in ‘arbitrary detention’ in UAE camp ‘like a prison’, rights group says

Thousands of Afghans who fled their country after the Taliban’s shocking 2021 takeover are still receiving ‘Arbitrary detention’ at a camp in the United Arab Emirates have no fair access to the process through which they can apply for refugee status, according to Wednesday’s report By Human Rights Watch.

Between 2,400 and 2,700 Afghans hoping to resettle in Western countries have been trapped in “Emirate Humanitarian Cities” for more than 15 months, unable to freely leave the fenced-in housing complex, where conditions have deteriorated since their first arrival, the report said. has seriously deteriorated.

“UAE authorities have held thousands of Afghan asylum seekers in overcrowded, miserable conditions for more than 15 months with no hope of progressing their cases,” said Joey Shea, United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch . “They are now facing further trauma after more than a year of hardship in the UAE following the traumatic escape of Afghanistan.”

Following the collapse of the US-backed Afghan government on August 15, 2021, the US and its partners evacuated thousands of vulnerable Afghans and their families to other parts of the world, including the US and Canada, at alarming speed. The UAE agreed to act as an intermediary country, hosting thousands of people who were then hoping to apply for asylum protection in a third country. They were transferred to a specially designed accommodation facility, the “Humanitarian City”, pending follow-up.

Those who remain in the UAE camp include senior officials from the former government and those working for U.S. government-affiliated entities or programs in Afghanistan. Some of them have had their asylum claims rejected, while others are still pending because they lack sufficient documentation to be accepted in third countries.

One person interviewed by Human Rights Watch said they had worked as security guards at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, and another at a laundromat on a U.S. Air Force base.

“The camp is like a prison,” Human Rights Watch quoted an Afghan in the camp as saying.

“The biggest problem is we don’t know our future, we don’t know our destination,” said another.

HRW did not name the individuals but said it “interviewed 16 Afghans who were detained in UAE Humanitarian Cities in October and November 2022, eight of whom had previously been with US government-affiliated entities in Afghanistan or worked on the project.”

One Afghan man told the group that he was told by camp authorities that he needed a visa to leave the camp. In January, an Afghan man whose wife and children were trapped at the facility provided a similar description to CBS News. He said he was in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, but had not been able to see his wife or children who were miles away for more than a year.

Each family at the camp has a single room.

“We lived here for 14 months and it was very difficult…the same room was used as dining room, living room and bedroom, and the toilet was in the room,” said a woman interviewed by HRW. Others spoke of poor sanitation, bedbug infestations and physical and mental health problems for residents of the complex.

Those trapped at the facility have staged repeated protests calling on the United States and its allies to transfer them to third countries.

A video from January showed protesters chanting “We want justice” while holding a white banner declaring they had been “forgotten” by U.S. Customs and Immigration and the international community.

In another video, children inside the camp hold banners reading “Justice” from mid-2022.

Human Rights Watch called on the UAE government to immediately grant Afghan evacuees freedom of entry and exit from the camps and ensure they have access to a fair and individualized refugee status determination and protection process.

The group also calls on the United States and other developed nations to urgently speed up the resettlement process for those trapped in the camps and to generously consider their cases as they seek to reunite with their families and find a safe new home and access to educational opportunities and employment .

As CBS News immigration reporter Camilo Montoya-Galvez reported in August, unlike the more than 70,000 Afghans who were evacuated outright and then re-evacuated rapid relocation After some security vetting, the U.S. began a slow, case-by-case immigration review of people living in humanitarian cities in 2021, which did not include any guarantees of U.S. resettlement.

The State Department told CBS News that under U.S. policy, Afghans have until Aug. 31, 2021, to evacuate to the UAE — just weeks after Kabul fell to the Taliban — if they pass certain medical and security procedures. inspection, you can effectively obtain permission to enter the United States. . But those who arrive after that date but wish to relocate to the United States must demonstrate that they are eligible for U.S. immigration benefits, such as visas or refugee status.

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