Up until early February 2022 the U.S. Department of State (DoS) has been unable or unwilling to address the plight of about 12,000 Afghans stuck inside a refugee camp in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Afghans were flown to the UAE by U.S. military aircraft or chartered aircraft contracted by various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and volunteer Afghan Evac groups from Mazar-i-Shariff and Kabul. Some arrived during the Kabul non-combatant evacuation operation (NEO) in August 2021 and others after the evacuation operation ended. The UAE offered its EHC facilities to house Afghan refugees en route to third countries that had over-stretched the capacity of the United States and European nations involved in the Kabul airlift. Some of the Afghans who arrived in the Emirates Humanitarian City (EHC) in the UAE have a ‘legal’ pathway to the United States; but many don’t.
UAE Support to the Afghans. Many of the Afghans who fled on the evacuation flights in the late summer and fall of 2021 had ties to the United States or European nations – either because they worked for their militaries in Afghanistan or with foreign government entities operating in Afghanistan. With the Taliban taking over, these at-risk Afghans are now targets of the Taliban. The United Arab Emirates temporarily accepted over 12,000 of these Afghans but the U.S. and European nations are dragging their feet in relocation efforts. Currently the UAE, with the help of some volunteer organizations – Black Feather Foundation, Task Force Argo, Mercury One, and others – are assisting the UAE in the administration of the camp and supporting the Afghans. The Emirates Humanitarian City has done an exceptional job in caring for and supporting Afghan evacuees and the UAE should be recognized for their important contribution. The U.S. Department of State has a small office located outside and adjacent to EHC and offers minimal support to U.S. citizens and others from that location.
Military Flights vs. Civilian Flights. By contrast, many of the Afghans who flew on U.S. military aircraft from Kabul in August 2021 arrived in Qatar, Kuwait, and other locations in the Middle East. Some flew from the Middle East to U.S. military installations in Europe. These Afghans have had a different experience. They were processed and flown out on chartered commercial aircraft to U.S. military bases in the United States. A large number of these Afghans did not have a legal pathway to the United States. They were just lucky enough to be flown out of Kabul airport on a military transport aircraft rather than a civilian chartered aircraft. Many of these Afghans have been resettled in U.S. communities and have been given Humanitarian Parole. So the Department of State seems to have adopted a ‘double standard‘ in regards to Afghans that flew to Doha and EHC.
Flights from UAE Discontinued. The Department of State had been conducting flights from the UAE, taking Afghans who were in Emirates Humanitarian City and flying them to the United States. But for no apparent reason the flights were discontinued in November 2021.
Process Changes in EHC. There is some confusion among the Afghans within the Emirates Humanitarian City. A series of security vetting interviews and medical exams were conducted over the fall and early winter at EHC of some Afghans. Those Afghans that went through this process were provided with ‘bracelets’ indicating their status and slips from the Customs and Border Patrol with a flight passenger number. The interviews were discontinued for a long period of time and despair has set in among the thousands of Afghans hoping for a way out of the camp. The process appears to be begun once again – with some changes being implemented by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). It seems the Afghans being considered for flights to the U.S. have pending Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) with case numbers beginning with a KBL designation.
Some Progress – Finally? Apparently, DoS is taking some action to alleviate the uncertainty for some of the Afghans in EHC. On Thursday, February 3rd, the US Mission to the UAE announced that 90 Afghans visited the U.S. Embassy for immigrant visa interviews. Is this the start of possible flights from EHC to the United States? A lot of questions are arising in EHC among the Afghans – there are not a lot of answers being provided.
Afghans Losing Hope. The conditions at the refugee complex . . . as refugee sites go . . . are pretty good. The United Arab Emirates have provided a range of excellent and needed services for the Afghans. However, the long stay has resulted in uncertainty, boredom, and hope has gone the way of despair. There are some Afghans who are suffering some significant mental health issues due to their situation. For a while, COVID posed a problem for the camp occupants, as it has done almost everywhere else in the world. The EHC Afghans watched the Afghans in the European bases in Germany, Kosovo, Italy, and Spain empty out. The Afghans in the U.S. military base in Doha, Qatar are in the low thousands and regularly get flown to the United States and resettled in communities across the country. And yet the EHC Afghans remain. They are uncertain of their future and see themselves possibly languishing at the EHC for many long months if not years.
A Long Stay but Are Answers Around the Corner? The Afghans of Emirates Humanitarian City have had a long wait. Certainly they have the option of returning to Afghanistan if they desire – very few have opted for this way out of EHC. For the most part, there were family reasons for their return to Afghanistan – a sick parent, a child left behind, or other reasons. However, a great many of the occupants of EHC have a reason to want out of Afghanistan – they are likely marked for persecution by the Taliban if they return to their country. It is unlikely that the UAE will force the Afghans, whatever their circumstances, back to Afghanistan. Europe and the United States should step up to assist these Afghans who are waiting for relocation.
Can DoS Get it Right? Hopefully, the U.S. Department of State will begin taking some action to assist these Afghans who have waited too long. The United Arab Emirates has done a remarkable job in assisting these Afghan evacuees. It is time for the United States government to step up and finish the task.
Photo: Afghans heading for an interview at the U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates. Photo posted on Twitter, Feb 3, US Mission to UAE.
Much of the content of this article is from news articles, social media posts, U.S. government documents, and correspondence from Afghans currently hosted in Emirates Humanitarian City. This article was originally posted by Afghan Report in late January 2022 but not published in the newsletter. It has been updated with recent developments about Emirate Humanitarian City.