Thousands of vulnerable Afghans fleeing their homes have been stuck in Abu Dhabi facilities since last summer as they await their journey to their final destination, including the US, despite assurances that help will come soon.
The Emirate Humanitarian City in Abu Dhabi is currently housing approximately 9,000 Afghan evacuees. These Afghans include those who have worked with the US and the Afghan Armed Forces, as well as other vulnerable Afghans such as journalists, judges, prosecutors, activists and ethnic and religious minorities who have fled the country for fear that they will be captured by the Taliban. will be targeted. , Many of them have no clear path to resettlement in the US or other countries.
Months of waiting, broken promises and lack of clarity about next steps added to the trauma of Afghans fleeing the Taliban.
Zahra Wahedi, who has lived at one of the two facilities in Abu Dhabi since October, told HuffPost she was promised a stay there for more than a couple of weeks.
“All I have heard since then are broken promises,” Waheedi said.
The frustration led to Afghans protesting inside the facility in February, demanding the US government to resume flights and speed up processing.
“No one knows what lies ahead for them. People are confused and clueless,” said protest organizer Ferdos Ariayi. “There is no way back home and no way forward.”
Following the protests, a senior US diplomat visited the base in March, apologized to thousands of Afghans stranded in the UAE and promised to expedite their resettlement in the US.
Flights to the US were operating until November last year, but then suddenly stopped because of an outbreak of measles among Afghans and then other screening requirements. Despite assurances that the process would be resumed at the earliest, flights remained effectively halted till April this year.
There have been only four US government charter flights since the process resumed in early April, according to Ariane, who was on a flight and arrived in the US in mid-May. Most eligible individuals for onward flights – especially those with special immigrant visas, or SIVs, working with the US – are expected to move by August.
A State Department spokesperson told HuffPost, “We continue to work diligently to facilitate the transfer of all eligible individuals to the U.S. as they pass the medical examinations and other screening procedures required by public health directives and U.S. immigration law.” accomplish.”
The State Department was unable to provide further details about these flights, citing operational security, passenger safety and privacy concerns.
People approved for SIV also have another option, said Task Force Argo. Executive Director of Anna Lloyd, a group of private citizens working to evacuate Americans and Afghan partners. Those who have an approved SIV, once interviewed, can make an independent departure with the help of the International Organization for Migration, a United Nations agency, by paying for their tickets or obtaining a loan from the agency. they can also get full help from International Organization for Migration, But this is often a slow process so the agency can coordinate flights and relocation assistance.
But not everyone in the US with a clear path to resettlement has an approved SIV. A large number of SIV applicants are in the early stages of the lengthy SIV application process, which can take months, or even years, to complete. This means that when these applicants eventually reach the US, they will not be given priority for travel.
Wahidi worked for several years with a US-funded project in Afghanistan before the Taliban came to power and is eligible for an SIV. But she said there has been no update on her SIV status since she applied in September. The SIV pipeline currently has a backlog of thousands of applications, which are yet to be processed.
“There are a lot of people,” Waheedi said, “but the process is slow, and I believe I will be here much longer than I was promised.”
In addition to the SIV, the State Department says they are working to process people in Emirates Humanitarian City who have confirmed cases of primary refugee admission, including cases with referrals to the P1 and P2 refugee programs Are included. Some Afghans who have worked with the US but are not eligible for SIV are eligible for the Priority Program.
Despite repeated assurances from the US government that it would not leave vulnerable Afghans behind after withdrawing troops from the country last year, it may be the only option available to them. No other visa category or route has been promised for Afghans to travel to the US at this time.
no way forward
For now, chartered flights from Emirates Humanitarian City facilities are available only to those who were evacuated directly from Afghanistan by the US government in August as part of non-combatant evacuation operations. They do not include the thousands of vulnerable Afghans who were relocated to the UAE by NGOs and volunteer groups, many of whom have no way of resettlement in the US, Lloyd said. said.
One of the NGOs helped move Nasser Karimi to Abu Dhabi last October; He was threatened by the Taliban and forced to flee the country. He hopes to be reunited with his two daughters living in the US, however, he is not eligible for an immigration visa that would allow him to relocate immediately. To bring him to the US, his daughters applied for humanitarian parole in December last year, which allows temporary entry into the US. They are yet to receive a reply to their application.
“Some people just have to wait, but my fate is unknown,” Karimi said.
According to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 45,000 people have applied for humanitarian parole since July 1. Of those applicants, about 2,200 have been rejected and about 270 have been conditionally approved.
Lloyd said that humanitarian parole cannot be processed in Abu Dhabi. That visa category and anyone else with no valid route to the US would have to find another country to obtain them.
But according to Lloyd, no one is being forced to return to Afghanistan. So far, around 100 Afghans have returned of their own free will to Afghanistan. Most have returned to help family members in Afghanistan who are facing dire situations like starvation.
“The US government has largely abandoned leadership coordination with Afghan allies that have worked with the US for two decades,” Lloyd said.
He said NGOs have been left to pick up the pieces to find safe haven for Afghans in other countries while they await processing from the US.
“Our Afghan allies arrived [the Emirates Humanitarian City] Because there was no other option to survive and are now in a difficult position in view of the absence of the State Department,” she said.
temporary housing becomes long term
Emirates Humanitarian City comprises two facilities in an industrial neighborhood of Abu Dhabi. These facilities served as housing for a total population of more than 10,000 Afghans over the past eight months. All Afghans have recently moved to a facility.
The UAE Royal Family provides assistance to Afghans in the Emirates Humanitarian City. They provide accommodation, utilities, food, medical care, activities for children, a mosque and city transportation for interviews at various embassies. They also brought in Western Union service to transfer money and allow mail and packages to be delivered, and supervised family field trips to the city to boost morale.
“We are grateful to the Royal Family of the United Arab Emirates,” Lloyd said.
A State Department spokesperson told HuffPost that the US is working with the Emirati government, and thanks the UAE “for its partnership and ongoing support.”
While basic needs are met at Emirates Humanitarian City, long confinement within tightly controlled facilities and uncertainty about the next course of action have left some Afghans with serious physical and psychological issues.
,The situation here is good for those who fled the crisis and sought temporary shelter, but some people need better care, especially those with serious illness,” Karimi told HuffPost.
He has been suffering from kidney stones for years, and his problem has worsened ever since he was removed. He said there is no proper treatment inside Emirates Humanitarian City, And most diseases are treated with painkillers without a diagnosis. She fears that she may have long-term health problems if the problem is not treated.
Karimi Convenience is also concerned about children. If they are out of school for a long time, it could affect their normal learning process, they worry. Although schools have recently been set up for children, he said they are largely focused on teaching English.
Many Afghans have volunteered to teach in these schools. Waheedi teaches four days a week and is happy to distract herself with an activity that also helps others, especially children. She went through months of severe depression and anxiety in the first few months after her arrival, but she had to find a way to deal with the situation.
Waheedi said, “I enjoy teaching children and it has also helped me deal with depression caused by long waits and uncertainty.”
She also spends her free time reading books, watching movies and playing volleyball. Her goal is to continue her education once settled in the US. She spends some of her time every day looking for scholarships and preparing her applications.
“What drives me to accept this prison-like situation is the hope for a better future in America,” Waheedi said.