United Arab Emirates (UAE) authorities have arbitrarily detained between 2,400 to 2,700 Afghans, evacuated after the Taliban captured Kabul in 2021, for over 15 months in a logistics hub in Abu Dhabi, nonprofit Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported Wednesday.
“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,” Joey Shea, UAE researcher at HRW, said in a statement.
In the weeks and months following the Taliban takeover of Kabul on Aug 15, 2021, the United States, NATO, the UAE and other governments evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans to places all over the world.
The UAE government flew thousands of Afghans to Abu Dhabi in private chartered flights and later transferred them to Emirates Humanitarian City and Tasameem Workers City (TWC), another housing facility, as they awaited their next transfer.
Although many were subsequently relocated to the US, Canada and other locations, between 2,400 to 2,700 Afghan are still “arbitrarily detained” in the UAE as of Jan 2023, according to HRW.
“After enduring significant trauma fleeing Afghanistan, they are facing further trauma now, after spending well over a year in limbo in the UAE,” Shea said.
The 16 Afghans interviewed by HRW reported restrictions on their freedom to move, lack of access to a fair and effective resolution regarding their refugee status along with secure and legal channels to continue their journey, and lack of suitable access to legal counsel and inadequate educational services for children.
“The camp is exactly like a prison,” an Afghan told the NGO, while another expressed extreme frustration at the indefinite nature of the detention saying, “the big problem is we don’t know our future and we don’t know our destination.”
So far, the UAE authorities have not responded to these allegations.
According to international law and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) guidelines, asylum seekers and migrants must not be detained for administrative reasons unless it is necessary for achieving a legitimate goal, and only in the absence of viable alternatives as well as for the least time possible.
If these regulations are not complied with, like in the case of the Afghans detained by the UAE authorities at Humanitarian City, the “detention is arbitrary,” HRW stressed.
“The US government in particular, which coordinated the 2021 evacuations and with whom many evacuees worked before the Taliban takeover, should immediately step up and intervene to provide support and protection for these asylum seekers,” the statement said.