The United Arab Emirates has arbitrarily detained at least 2,400 Afghan asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said.
Adults and children held in makeshift facilities in Abu Dhabi evacuated from Kabul after Taliban takeover in August 2021.
HRW said they lived in “crowded, miserable conditions” and were “struggled” with no hope of resettlement.
The UAE denied harsh conditions and said it was working with the US on the resettlement process.
More than 10,000 other Afghans who flew to the UAE were reportedly resettled in the US, Canada and elsewhere, while another 70,000 were evacuated directly to the US before US troops left Kabul.
Afghans who flew to Abu Dhabi after the Taliban takeover were housed in two converted apartment complexes, Emirates Humanitarian City and Tassamim Workers City.
They reported restrictions on their freedom of movement, lack of access to fair and effective refugee status determination, inadequate access to legal counsel, inadequate education of children, and lack of psychosocial support.
Detainees also described overcrowding, decaying infrastructure and pest infestation, according to the US-based campaign group.
An Afghan, who asked not to be named, was quoted as saying that the UAE humanitarian city was “totally like a prison”, while another described a “pervasive mental health crisis among residents”.
Under international law and UNHCR guidance, asylum seekers and migrants should not be detained for administrative purposes unless it is necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective and only in the absence of viable alternatives.
Human Rights Watch called on the UAE to release the detainees and provide a fair and efficient process to determine their status and protection needs.
“The government should not ignore the appalling plight of these Afghans trapped in the UAE,” said Joy Shea, the group’s UAE researcher.
“The US government in particular, which coordinated the 2021 evacuations and with which many evacuees worked with the Taliban before it took over, should step up intervention immediately to provide support and protection for these asylum seekers.”
The UAE is providing “high-quality housing, sanitation, health, clinical, counselling, education and food services” to Afghans in the UAE Humanitarian City, an Emirati official told AFP.
They also said the UAE would continue to work with US authorities to “reseat the remaining evacuees in a timely manner”.
“We understand there was frustration and it took longer than expected to complete,” they added.
The State Department said the United States had an “enduring” commitment to resettle all eligible Afghans, including those in humanitarian cities in the UAE.