Afghan refugees stuck in the UAE for almost a year take to the streets as resettlement process stall


Afghan refugees and migrants living in limbo at a United Arab Emirates (UAE) facility for nearly a year have held fresh protests over what they say is a slow and opaque resettlement process.

Hundreds of Afghans carried banners and shouted for "freedom" on Monday and Tuesday, two Afghans in the facility told Reuters, estimating that thousands were still awaiting resettlement to the United States or other countries.

Images and videos showed children, women and men protesting inside the facility in Abu Dhabi, known as Emirates Humanitarian City, with temperatures in the Gulf Arab state reaching 38 degrees Celsius.

One boy held a small banner that read: "One year is enough!"

An Emirati official acknowledged in a written statement there were frustrations and that the process of resettlement has taken longer than the UAE had wanted.

The official said the UAE was continuing to work with the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital, to process the Afghans housed in the facility so that they could be resettled in a "timely manner".

"The UAE remains committed to this ongoing cooperation with the US and other international partners to ensure that Afghan evacuees can live in safety, security, and dignity," the official said.

A State Department spokesperson said Washington was working to identify Afghans who may qualify for resettlement in the United States and "will be relentless in this effort" while "ensuring standard screening and vetting measures".

At the time, there were an estimated 12,000 Afghans at the facility in Abu Dhabi and another site nearby.

The US has taken in over 85,000 Afghans since August last year, including many who were processed in the Middle East and Europe.

The two Afghans who spoke out said the mental health of those in the tightly controlled facility was deteriorating due to the uncertainty over their future.

Both said they did not know when they would be resettled.

The UAE official said those housed in the facility received "high-quality housing, sanitation, health, clinical, counselling, education and food services to ensure their welfare".

#AfghanEvac, a coalition of volunteer groups advocating on behalf of Afghans to the US government, wrote on Twitter after protests broke out that the process had not stalled and those in the UAE facility would be resettled in the US or elsewhere.

UAE officials have said the country offered to temporarily host thousands of Afghans evacuated on behalf of the US and other Western nations after Afghanistan's Western-backed government collapsed and the Taliban took over.

Others arrived later on chartered flights.

The UAE, like other Gulf states, typically does not accept refugees.

US officials have said that all those who qualify will be resettled in the US, while others will be resettled in third nations.

No-one would be forced to return to Afghanistan, according to US officials, though some in the UAE returned voluntarily after months of waiting.

Among Afghans who have been held in the UAE, advocates say, are those who worked with the US government, military, other coalition partners and foreign charities during the war.