Hundreds of Afghans waiting for resettlement in the US held protests in the United Arab Emirates on Monday and Tuesday, with one angry demonstrator likening poor conditions in custody to a “modern prison.”
Washington evacuated an estimated 85,000 refugees from Afghanistan as the US-created government in Kabul fell to the Taliban one year ago. Thousands of those Afghans are now in a state of limbo, placed in camps around the UAE as they await permission to enter the United States.
One facility located on the outskirts of Abu Dhabi, dubbed the “Emirates Humanitarian City,” is the UAE’s primary site for displaced Afghans, once housing around 12,000 refugees. Some 6,500 remain there.
However, while the Emirati government claims the camp provides “high-quality housing, sanitation, health, clinical, counseling, education and food services,” many of its residents are growing desperate to leave after months of confinement.
“Nearly one year, we have been here in detention and the camp is like a modern prison. No one is allowed to go out, they don’t know when [we] will be settled permanently to any country,” one Afghan at the camp told Reuters.
Another inhabitant described the deteriorating mental health of those who live there, saying that many do not know when they will find a new long-term home and now live in a constant state of uncertainty about their future.
Complaints about the lengthy resettlement process have boiled over into unrest this week, with protests erupting at and around the camp on Monday and Tuesday. In videos circulating online, crowds of demonstrators were seen marching through Abu Dhabi and demanding action from the government.
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Protests previously took place at the camp in February amid reports that the resettlement cases were not being processed, leading a US State Department official to visit the facility in May and apologize for the delays.
“I told them that I was really sorry it was taking so long and I was as frustrated as they were, frankly. But I also asked for their understanding of how hard we’ve been working to get the systems going,” the official said.
For many Afghans still stranded in “Humanitarian City,” however, those assurances rang hollow, with one resident telling the Huffington Post they were merely the latest in a series of “broken promises.”
A family profiled by CBS earlier this month also described the camp as a prison. “Day by day, the situation is tough. This is exactly like a prison,” one Afghan man told the outlet. Though he and his wife have permission to enter the US, they are still waiting for Washington to approve their one-year-old daughter.