Thousands of Afghans who fled their homes two years ago are stuck in processing sites in the Middle East and the Balkans that are “coordinated, facilitated or under the control of the US government” – and yet the Biden administration refuses to release information basic information about their status, according to human rights defenders who sued the administration last month.
When the United States and its allies transported people out of Afghanistan in the wake of the Taliban’s return to power in August 2021, they helped set up what were supposed to be temporary processing sites in countries third parties, notably in the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Kosovo. . Two years later, thousands of Afghans are effectively detained at these sites, which are largely closed to visitors, according to human rights lawyers, amid deteriorating conditions and without any information regarding their status. refugee status, their humanitarian parole or other pending entry applications. United States
“It is extremely concerning that people have been waiting in limbo for two years now, and it is extremely difficult to receive further information because visitors are denied access,” said Sadaf Doost, a lawyer at the Center for Rights. constitutional. or CCR, told The Intercept. “This creates a situation where much of the information we rely on depends on those who are able to provide insight into what is happening in the camps. »
CCR and Muslim Advocates, another nonprofit legal organization, for follow-up the United States Departments of State, Defense and Homeland Security on August 30 for failure by these agencies to comply with freedom of information laws. Earlier this year, the groups filed public records requests with each agency seeking to establish the exact number of Afghans awaiting resettlement in the United States, as well as the conditions of their confinement and the exact role played by the American government in the management of the sites where they are held. According to the lawsuit, the Departments of State and Homeland Security did not respond to records requests at all. The Defense Ministry, for its part, has agreed to release some documents, but has not yet managed to do so.
The trial also raises humanitarian and human rights concerns at three of the processing sites: Camp Liya, Kosovo, which is inside a U.S. military base; Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar, located on a former US Army base; and Humanitarian City, in the United Arab Emirates, which U.S. officials say is “uniquely” controlled by the Emirati government, although State Department officials would have visit the camp twice a week.
A Department of Homeland Security spokesperson declined to comment on the pending litigation, while a State Department spokesperson did not respond to questions about the lawsuit or the status of Afghans awaiting trial. resettlement to treatment sites abroad. The Pentagon did not respond to The Intercept’s request for comment.
“There is simply no information on how much longer these Afghan civilians have to wait.”
Advocates say the Biden administration has a responsibility to report on the conditions facing Afghan evacuees — and the status of their claims — rather than forcing the public to rely on information that is leaked outside the camps in a manner fragmentary. “There is simply no information on how much longer these Afghan civilians have to wait,” Doost said. “And there’s really no oversight because of the lack of information.”
Mursel Sabir, co-founder of the community organization Afghans Empowered, works with several Afghan refugee support groups that are also trying to get information about the camps — and are frustrated by the U.S. government’s lack of transparency.
“They were very quick to move on from the situation in Afghanistan,” she told The Intercept. As for Afghans stuck in processing sites, she said, “they are essentially in the hands and at the mercy of the U.S. government and Western powers, who are trying to choose who is loyal and who deserves to come to this country “. .”
“Like a prison”
According to the lawsuit, family members, lawyers and the media have been largely denied access to the camps, making it harder for advocates to assess conditions there. Recent human rights and media reports, however, indicate a growing humanitarian crisis, with evacuees facing human rights violations, including rape, medical neglect, and denial of food and water.
Human Rights Watch warned in a report published in March that at least 2,400 people had been detained “in cramped and miserable conditions” for more than 15 months at Emirates Humanitarian City, a temporary site in Abu Dhabi. Those detained in the camp described constraints on their freedom of movement, lack of access to refugee status determination processes, and insufficient educational services for children. They also denounced overcrowding, dilapidated infrastructure, insect infestations and deteriorating mental health conditions for many of those detained there, according to the report.
One interviewee described the refugee center as “just like a prison.”
At the As Sayliyah camp in Qatar, some evacuees were suicide attempt and hunger strike, according to an article in the Middle East Eye. Kosovo’s Camp Liya earned the nickname “Little Guantánamo” because people detained within its confines were told that if they left the premises, their requests for humanitarian parole would be rejected, according to the lawsuit. “They are constructively confined in the camps,” Doost said.
It is unclear what U.S. government responsibility is at each site, and advocates have requested documents regarding agreements reached between U.S. officials and host governments.
The U.S. government is to blame for the delay in processing the resettlement of evacuees, with Homeland Security officials obstructing the requests of many people detained overseas. More than 1.6 million people have left Afghanistan over the past two years, as U.S. officials coordinated the evacuation of some 124,000 people, including former officials, human rights defenders and many people who worked for the US government and military.
A year after the withdrawal from Afghanistan, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the division of the Department of Homeland Security responsible for reviewing applications, had processed only 8,000 of the 66,000 humanitarian parole applications it received. They had received from Afghan citizens, according to a report. investigation by Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting. It had approved only 123. Other resettlement opportunities, including a special visa category known as SIV for Afghan nationals who worked for the U.S. government and militarywere also spoiled by uncertainty and delays.
The DHS spokesperson did not respond to questions about Afghans stuck abroad awaiting resolution of their immigration applications. Regarding Afghans who have already arrived in the United States, the spokesperson said USCIS approved 9,000 of 24,000 SIV applications as well as 5,000 of 19,000 asylum applications.
Chris Godshall-Bennett, an attorney with Muslim Advocates, told The Intercept that while the U.S. government has not responded to most of the questions raised by advocates, the treatment of Afghan evacuees and the lack of transparency about it are consistent with other US policies. targeting predominantly Muslim populations, including former President Donald Trump’s no-fly list and “no-fly list.”Muslim ban.”
“It is unfortunately not surprising that a predominantly Muslim population would find themselves trapped in these kinds of endless, unclear processing cycles, where no one gives them any information,” he said.
The groups behind the lawsuit hope it will force the United States to be transparent not only about conditions at the sites, but also about the steps the government is taking to process Afghan resettlement requests. “This information is desperately needed to facilitate a broader discussion about how the U.S. government is treating these people and what we owe to the Afghan people who have been displaced by what, ultimately, are our own actions.” »