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UAE 'arbitrarily detaining' thousands of Afghan refugees

Afghan asylum seekers describe 'miserable conditions' in UAE facilities, which they were transferred to after Taliban takeover
Afghan refugees protest at the Emirates Humanitarian City facility in Abu Dhabi (Social media)

Thousands of Afghans are being arbitrarily detained by the United Arab Emirates, according to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published on Wednesday. 

According to HRW, between 2,400 and 2,700 Afghan asylum seekers have been kept for the last 15 months in “miserable conditions” in the “Emirates Humanitarian City”, a logistics hub in Abu Dhabi.

'From adults to children, they are all suffering from depression, and this is getting worse the longer they stay in the camp'

- witness speaking to HRW

“The UAE should urgently release those arbitrarily detained and provide access to fair and efficient processes for determining their status and protection needs,” said HRW in a statement. 

Following the Taliban takeover of Kabul on 15 August 2021, the United States, Nato, the UAE and other governments evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans out of the country to various locations around the world.

The Abu Dhabi government took thousands of Afghans, moving them to the Emirates Humanitarian City, where they awaited onward transfer to other countries. The 2,400-2,700 Afghans still detained are kept without any prospect that their situations will be resolved. 

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“Emirati authorities have kept thousands of Afghan asylum seekers locked up for over 15 months in cramped, miserable conditions with no hope of progress on their cases,” said Joey Shea, UAE researcher at Human Rights Watch. 

HRW also voiced concern that the authorities in the UAE were perpetuating the “enduring significant trauma” that many of the asylum seekers had faced in fleeing Afghanistan.

One Afghan asylum seeker interviewed by HRW said that "the camp is exactly like a prison".

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An Emirati official speaking to AFP refuted HRW's allegations about conditions at the camps. Authorities were providing "high-quality housing, sanitation, health, clinical, counselling, education and food services", the official said. 

Afghans interviewed by HRW said that they are not allowed to freely leave the complex. 

Residents described a widespread mental health crisis at the camp. “From the adults to the children, they are all suffering from depression, and this is getting worse the longer they stay in the camp,” said one person, speaking to HRW.

During the official US evacuation from Afghanistan, a number of satellite locations in other countries were used to process evacuees, including Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, and the UAE.

The Afghan refugees at the camp staged a protest last year against uncertainty and delay in their attempts to permanently resettle in the United States and other third countries.

The refugees chanted “we want justice” and “intiqal [transfer to] America”, calling for an urgent change to their unresolved status. 

Previous protests prompted a visit by a US State Department official, who said that by August 2022 all Afghans there would be resettled.

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