MONITORING (SW) – Authorities in the United Arab Emirates have arbitrarily detained between 2,400 and 2,700 Afghans for over 15 months in the “Emirates Humanitarian City,” a humanitarian logistics hub in Abu Dhabi, Human Rights Watch has said.
The UAE should urgently release those arbitrarily detained and provide access to fair and efficient processes for determining their status and protection needs.
In the weeks and months after the Taliban takeover of Kabul on August 15, 2021, the United States, NATO, UAE, and other governments evacuated tens of thousands of Afghans to locations around the world. The UAE government took thousands of Afghans on private chartered flights to Abu Dhabi, and then transferred them to the Emirates Humanitarian City and Tasameem Workers City (TWC), another housing facility, pending onward movement. While many were later resettled in the US, Canada, and elsewhere, between 2,400 and 2,700 Afghans remain arbitrarily detained in the UAE as of early January 2023.
“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, United Arab Emirates researcher at Human Rights Watch. “After enduring significant trauma fleeing Afghanistan, they are facing further trauma now, after spending well over a year in limbo in the UAE.”
Human Rights Watch interviewed 16 Afghans detained in the Emirates Humanitarian City in October and November 2022, including 8 who previously worked at some point for US government-affiliated entities or programs in Afghanistan. Human Rights Watch is withholding the names of interviewees to protect them from retaliation by the authorities.
Afghans interviewed reported constraints on their freedom of movement, lack of access to fair and effective refugee status determination and safe and legal pathways for onward movement, lack of adequate access to legal counsel, and inadequate education services for children. With no psychosocial support, many adults and children are suffering from depression and other mental health conditions. Living conditions have also deteriorated significantly, with detainees describing overcrowding, decay of infrastructure, and insect infestations.
The HRW has recommended the UAE’s Interior Ministry should release detained Afghan evacuees, ensure they all have access to fair and individualized processes for refugee status determination and protection needs, permit them to move freely and reside in the location of their choosing for the duration of their cases. The government should also investigate human rights violations that have occurred in Humanitarian City.
It stressed, the UAE authorities should urgently identify and release children along with their family members, and provide safe alternatives to detention to which humanitarian agencies have regular access. They should also identify and release pregnant and nursing women in line with international guidelines on the detention of asylum seekers.
The US government should leverage its influence with UAE authorities to urge the UAE to release detained Afghan evacuees, ensure they all have access to fair and individualized processes for assessing their legal status and protection needs, permit them to move freely and reside in the location of their choosing for the duration of their cases, and investigate human rights violations that have occurred in Humanitarian City.