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Human Rights Watch accused the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday of arbitrarily detaining at least 2,400 Afghan asylum seekers in "miserable" accommodation for more than a year, pending resettlement elsewhere.
The rights group said that between 2,400 and 2,700 Afghans evacuated to the UAE following the Taliban takeover of Kabul in August 2021 remain "arbitrarily detained" in makeshift refugee housing with limited freedom of movement and scarce access to legal counsel.
The UAE, for its part, said it was working with US counterparts to complete the resettlement process but denied reports of dire living conditions.
"Emirati authorities have kept thousands of Afghan asylum seekers locked up for over 15 months in cramped, miserable conditions with no hope of progress on their cases," said HRW's UAE researcher Joey Shea, calling for their immediate release.
One Afghan asylum seeker interviewed by HRW said: "The camp is exactly like a prison."
The UAE had agreed to temporarily host Afghans at the request of the United States, pending their resettlement elsewhere, an Emirati official told AFP.
"The UAE continues to work with the US embassy to process travellers and liaise with US counterparts in efforts to resettle the remaining evacuees in a timely manner," the official said on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the press.
"We understand that there are frustrations and this has taken longer than intended to complete."
The UAE official dismissed HRW's allegations about conditions in the makeshift camp, saying authorities are providing "high-quality housing, sanitation, health, clinical, counselling, education and food services".
But according to HRW, detained Afghans suffer "prison-like conditions", with no freedom of movement and around-the-clock surveillance. It described a "mental health crisis" in the camp, adding it has learnt of at least one suicide attempt.
"Governments should not ignore the shocking plight of these Afghans stranded in limbo in the UAE," Shea said.
"The US government in particular, which coordinated the 2021 evacuations and with whom many evacuees worked before the Taliban takeover, should immediately step up and intervene."