August 14, 2022

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Protests erupted among thousands of Afghan refugees who complain of prisonlike conditions at a facility...

Protests erupted among thousands of Afghan refugees who complain of prisonlike conditions at a facility in Abu Dhabi, where they have been held for months since being evacuated from Afghanistan awaiting resettlement in the U.S.
Protests were planned for the coming days, but erupted late Wednesday night after refugees spread the word that Emirati secret police had detained an organizer named Abdul Jalal Kakar, several Afghans at the camp said.

The United Arab Emirates said no one was detained, and deferred to the U.S. State Department for further comment. The State Department declined to comment. It later emerged, refugees said, that Mr. Kakar had met with U.S. officials during his absence.
Thousands of Afghans stormed out of their quarters after nightfall and gathered outside a U.S. diplomatic office. They were shouting and carrying banners reading, “We want freedom.” A few women marched alongside the men, and children carried signs reading, “Six months life in prison” and “I am suffering mentally.”
Following the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul over the summer, the Biden administration called on allies to host refugees temporarily after their evacuation from Afghanistan. The administration has yet to identify a path for thousands who ended up in third countries and are still waiting to enter the U.S.
The protest is likely to add pressure to the already strained discussions between the U.S. and Emirati governments over the future of the camp, which was initially set up to house Afghans for weeks and has now become an indefinite way station for thousands who lack documentation to travel to the U.S.

Afghan refugees at a protest in Abu Dhabi over the U.S. relocation process.

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Abdullah Fuladkhail

Baktash, a protest organizer who asked to be identified by one name for security reasons, said U.A.E. authorities had been generous in providing food and accommodation, but he criticized the U.S. for leaving them stranded for months in difficult conditions without news on their immigration cases.
“We are locked and imprisoned here,” he said. “We are prisoners in our rooms. Our future is not clear.”
Around 10,000 Afghans are being held at the tightly secured compound, confined to their residences over what officials have described as concerns about the spread of Covid-19. The refugees have complained of limited access to U.S. immigration officials, education for their children and employment.
In Afghanistan, millions are on the brink of starvation after the U.S. and the West—which provided a majority of the funding for the Kabul government, security forces and aid projects—withdrew financial support along with troops.
The Biden administration admitted some 75,000 Afghans who boarded U.S. military flights to the U.S. last year under a temporary status known as humanitarian parole. But officials say the Afghans who remain in third countries have to complete the regular immigration process before entering the U.S., which can take years.
Many refugees who served alongside U.S. troops and diplomats have complained that thousands of Afghan with little or no connection to the U.S. were evacuated to the U.S. amid the chaos following the withdrawal, while they remain trapped outside the country.

The White House responded to a WSJ story about an Afghan interpreter for the U.S. Army, who in 2008 helped rescue then-Sen. Joe Biden and others during a snowstorm in Afghanistan. Aman Khalili was unable to leave the country before the U.S. exit and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that his service would be honored. The interpreter isn’t pictured in the photo. (Originally published Sept. 1, 2021) Photo: John Silson/U.S. Department of State

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Abdullah Fuladkhail, one of the residents at the camp, is among the thousands of Afghans who applied this summer for a visa program for Afghans at risk of reprisal for working alongside U.S. troops and diplomats. He said he had yet to hear back on whether he would be admitted to the program.
“No one can stop us, there’s too many people, thousands of people,” he said. “We have been waiting six months here. Why haven’t they made any plan for us? The purpose of the protest is to get America’s attention.”
Mr. Fuladkhail said the Taliban shot him in front of his family as they were trying to escape and he needs surgery that is unavailable at the facility.
White House officials this week declined to provide an update on visa processing times but said staffing for the program had quadrupled. Before Kabul collapsed, officials said that wait times had been reduced from several years to close to the mandated nine months.
The Biden administration also recently announced plans to streamline immigration processing in Doha, Qatar, but only expects to use the hub for priority cases including immediate family members of Americans and U.S. permanent residents, former U.S. Embassy staff and unaccompanied children to be reunited with their parents.

Afghan refugees in Abu Dhabi in August, after the collapse of the U.S.-backed government in Kabul.


chandramohan vidhyaa/Reuters

The U.A.E. camp is home to thousands of refugees who currently have no legal path to the U.S., including members of paramilitary units backed by the Central Intelligence Agency that helped secure the airport when Kabul fell but weren’t directly employed by U.S. agencies or contractors.
The administration has said that Afghans who don’t fit into certain criteria necessary for entering the U.S. will be transferred to third countries instead. No country has volunteered to take Afghan refugees in limbo, but the U.S. is hoping the European Union or Canada will help.
Beyond the U.A.E., thousands of Afghans are stranded in southeastern European countries such as Albania and Greece, or in other parts of the world, including Uganda, Mexico and Chile.
Recently, a delegation of U.S. officials told camp representatives that thousands of Afghans there may never be admitted to the U.S., adding to the tense situation, camp residents said.
“We repeatedly asked the U.S. Embassy to come and talk to us about why the process is slow and shed light on our future,” said Baktash, the organizer. He said the embassy’s representative told them it could take years to process their paperwork.
“For the rest of the people who are not eligible,” he said, “the U.S. does not have any program, the envoy told us.”
Write to Jessica Donati at [email protected]

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