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Afghan refugees in UAE protest at halt to U.S. relocation process

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By Reuters

By Alexander Cornwell

DUBAI – Hundreds of Afghans have launched a rare protest at a Gulf 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.

Thousands of Afghans were last year evacuated to the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the United States and other Western countries amid the chaotic U.S.-led withdrawal from Afghanistan and return to power of the hardline Islamist Taliban movement.

The UAE agreed to provide Afghans with temporary housing until their applications for relocation could be processed and they could travel onwards to third countries.

Six months later, however, many are still in the UAE in tightly controlled facilities.

Men, women and children demonstrated on Thursday inside an Abu Dhabi facility, calling on Washington to welcome them to their second home, photos sent to Reuters by one of the protesters showed.

“When we were evacuated, the (department) of defence had the control of the (Kabul) airport. No one came by themselves,” another sign read.

Similar photos and videos were widely shared on social media.

A protester who shared the photos, and another protester, both of whom declined to be named, said the rally was triggered after many Afghans there lost hope that they would ever go to the United States.

One of those protesters told Reuters by phone that some Afghans were detained by Emirati authorities as demonstrations began.

The Emirati government and the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“People are being held captive here,” the first protester said, describing conditions in the facilities as prison-like.

It is unclear how many Afghans are still being housed in the UAE, which in September said it had evacuated 9,000 Afghan nationals who were on their way to third countries.

Ahmad Mohibi, a former U.S. counter-terrorism adviser in Afghanistan who has assisted those fleeing Afghanistan, said there have been no flights to the United States from the UAE for evacuees since late November, and that some Afghans were now threatening to launch a hunger strike in protest.

“There is no transparency,” Mohibi said, criticising Washington’s process for the Afghan refugees.