Afghan refugees in UAE protest for third day, call for U.S. resettlement

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Evacuees from Afghanistan board a military aircraft during an evacuation from Kabul, in this photo taken on August 19, 2021 at undisclosed location and released on August 20, 2021. Staff Sgt. Brandon Cribelar/U.S. Marine Corps/Handout via RE

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI (Reuters) – Afghan refugees held in the United Arab Emirates for months since fleeing Afghanistan last year protested for a third day on Friday, calling for resettlement in the United States.

The demonstrations by hundreds of Afghans began on Wednesday at the centre where they are being housed as months of frustrations with what refugees say is a lack of communication over the resettlement process boiled over.

A protester told Reuters by phone more refugees had joined the demonstration on Friday, a day after a U.S. official visited the centre and told them it could take years for applications to be processed.

The official added that many refugees, however, were unlikely to ever be resettled in the United States, according to the protester.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed several Afghans had taken part in peaceful demonstrations and that U.S. government officials had met with Afghans this week to discuss their concerns with the resettlement process.

The spokesperson said U.S. screening and vetting of vulnerable Afghans is continuing and that “safe and orderly” travel to the United States will be facilitated for those who qualify.

Among the Afghans, advocates say, are those who had worked with the U.S. government and military. There are also those who had fought in the Afghan forces before the U.S.-led withdrawal last August when the Western-backed government collapsed and the hardline Islamist movement took over the country.

Ahmad Mohibi, an advocate who has helped Afghans evacuate and who is in contact with several refugees in the UAE, said the Afghans planned to continue peaceful protests.

The refugees, he said, were appreciative of the care the UAE has provided them but were exasperated by the uncertainty over how much longer they would have to remain in what they say are prison-like conditions at the Abu Dhabi centre.

The Emirati government has not commented on the protests.

The UAE agreed with Washington and other Western countries last year to temporarily house Afghan nationals evacuated from Afghanistan as they made their way to a third country.

It is unclear how many Afghans refugees are being housed in the UAE, though demonstrators and advocates estimate there are 12,000 temporarily living at two locations in Abu Dhabi.

Afghans have also protested outside a U.S. government representative office at one of the centres in Abu Dhabi, holding banners pleading for freedom and urging the United States to resettle them.

Mohibi said he was coordinating with other advocates and charities to raise the Afghans’ concerns directly with the U.S. government.

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