Human Rights Watch reports that the United Arab Emirates is holding nearly 3,000 Afghan asylum seekers in detention

Archive – Evacuations at Kabul Airport, August 2021 – SGT. ISAIAH CAMPBELL/U.S. MARINE / ZUMA PRESS / CO

The human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) has denounced that the United Arab Emirates is holding between 2,400 and 2,700 Afghan asylum seekers in its country, arbitrarily detained instead of being able to be relocated to third countries.

In a statement, the organization has explained that the UAE joined the list of countries that evacuated Afghan nationals following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021. The asylum seekers were transferred to the ‘Humanitarian City’ in Abu Dhabi, a housing complex where they were to wait to be transferred to other countries.

Although many of them were relocated to the United States, Canada and other countries, HRW reports that about 3,000 remain in the UAE for no apparent reason.

The organization has called on the country to release them immediately and ensure they have access to fair processes to determine their status and secure the protection they need.

The Emirati authorities have held thousands of Afghan asylum seekers for more than 15 months in overcrowded and squalid conditions, with no hope of progress in their cases,» said HRW’s UAE researcher Joey Shea.

HRW was able to interview 16 Afghans in this situation between October and November 2022, who described limitations on their freedom of movement, as well as failure to effectively determine their refugee status, lack of access to legal counsel and even ineffective education services for children.

»The camp is exactly like a prison,» stated one of the asylum seekers, describing deteriorating living conditions in the Humanitarian City and Tasameem Workers’ City, another similar complex where Afghans have been living since 2021.

The people interviewed by the NGO have also denounced extreme security measures in the camp, guarded at all times by security officers, who also do not allow Afghans to leave the compound except for necessary visits to the hospital, where, they say, they are accompanied by several officers at all times.

Eight of the people interviewed by HRW have reportedly worked for the U.S. government in the past, and all of them explain that they are trying to apply for asylum in the country, but that the UAE authorities have not allowed them access to legal advice, and they also claim not to know for sure what their situation is in the country where they have been forcibly residing for more than a year.