Afghans hold a rally at a Gulf facility in in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, to protest the lengthy US relocation process. (Rise to Peace/via REUTERS)
- The UAE has agreed to provide temporary homes for thousands of Afghans evacuated last year when the Taliban seized power in their country
DUBAI: Hundreds of Afghans have launched a rare protest at a United Arab Emirates facility where they have been housed since fleeing their homeland last year, holding banners pleading for freedom and demanding to be sent to the United States to be resettled.
Thousands of Afghans were last year evacuated to the Gulf Arab state on behalf of the United States and other Western countries amid the chaotic US-led withdrawal from Afghanistan and return to power of the hard-line Islamist Taliban movement.
The UAE, a close US partner, agreed to provide Afghans with temporary housing as they waited to be resettled elsewhere.
Six months later, however, many are still in the UAE, living in tightly controlled facilities.
Protests started on Wednesday and continued on Thursday, two demonstrators told Reuters on the condition of anonymity, fearing retribution from authorities for speaking out.
Videos sent to Reuters showed men, women and children calling on Washington to welcome them to their second home.
Similar videos and images were widely shared on social media.
The two protesters, one of whom shared the videos, said the rally was triggered by the persistent lack of information on when Afghans would be resettled.
One of those protesters told Reuters by phone that some Afghans were detained by Emirati authorities as demonstrations began.
The UAE government and the US Embassy in Abu Dhabi had no immediate comment on the protests.
Shawn VanDiver, a US Navy veteran and president of #AfghanEvac, a coalition of volunteer groups, said the Afghans were understandably frustrated and that there was a shared, global responsibility of being open and honest with them.
“The coalition is going to do everything they can to hold the US government and others to clear, concize and accurate communications,” he said.
It is unclear how many Afghans are being housed in the UAE, which last September said it had evacuated 9,000 Afghan nations who were on their way third countries.
Advocates and protesters estimate there are 12,000 housed across two facilities in Abu Dhabi.
One of the protesters said conditions in the facilities were prison-like.
Two sources familiar with the process told Reuters the United States was prioritising those in Abu Dhabi who had visas or applications to go the United States but many there had neither.
A protest sign at one of the Abu Dhabi facilities read: “When we were evacuated, the (US) dept (department) of defense had the control of the (Kabul) airport. No-one came by themselves.”
Ahmad Mohibi, a former US counter-terrorism adviser in Afghanistan who has assisted those fleeing Afghanistan, said US flights carrying Afghans from the UAE stopped in November.
Some Afghans had threatened to go on a hunger strike in protest as they wait for resettlement, while a small group had asked to return to Afghanistan, he said.
“There is no transparency,” Mohibi said, criticizing the US resettlement process for the Afghans in the UAE facilities.