Rights Groups Sue U.S. Government, Demand Info on Afghan Evacuees Detained in Third Countries

U.S. responsible for thousands of Afghans who face arbitrary detention, brutal treatment, legal limbo

August 30, 2023, New York – Today, two years after the U.S. government ended its 20-year war in Afghanistan, rights groups filed a lawsuit seeking to compel multiple agencies to provide information on the thousands of Afghan evacuees arbitrarily detained in third countries. Brought under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the suit cites reports of brutal treatment at these facilities, which are largely coordinated, facilitated, or under the control of the U.S. government. 

The litigation comes after the protracted failure of the U.S. Defense, State, and Homeland Security departments to respond to a March 2023 FOIA request for records related to the aftermath of the evacuation of more than 124,000 Afghans by the United States in August 2021, as the Taliban retook control of the country. Thousands are still held at, among other sites, Humanitarian City in the United Arab Emirates, Camp As Sayliyah in Qatar, and Camp Liya in Kosovo. 

Most have been detained for over a year and have been denied information about their applications for entry into the United States. Last year, a report revealed that the U.S. government has approved only two percent of the applications for humanitarian parole it has processed. Other accounts indicate that some evacuees have been coerced into returning to Afghanistan, where they face life-threatening danger from the Taliban. 

“The U.S. government cannot continue to ignore questions about the legal status and well-being of the Afghan civilians it is detaining around the world while they await immigration determinations,” said Muslim Advocates Staff Attorney Chris Godshall-Bennett. “Tired appeals to ‘security concerns’ that seem to only apply to Muslim communities can no longer justify arbitrary detentions and disparate treatment. There are urgent questions about the government’s actions here and we all deserve answers.”

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Muslim Advocates will serve as co-counsel in the litigation, which, lawyers say, is based on the public’s right to know about the actions of its government in a matter of grave humanitarian importance. They aim to bolster Congressional oversight and the efforts of Afghan civil society groups to end the warehousing of evacuees. Many thousands more Afghans are seeking to leave the country, where Taliban rule and U.S. sanctions are compounding suffering after two decades of war and occupation. 

“As if two decades of war and occupation was not enough, the United States continues to subject Afghan civilians to human rights and humanitarian peril,” said Sadaf Doost, attorney and Bertha Justice Fellow at the Center for Constitutional Rights. “Thousands of Afghan civilians remain arbitrarily detained at these sites based on illusive, violent, and discriminatory policies. Civil society organizations and impacted community members have an urgent need to see the requested records regarding the U.S. government’s involvement in and knowledge and facilitation of these ongoing harms.”

The U.S. government has determinative influence over the operations and conditions of the facilities where Afghan evacuees are locked up, according to the suit. Camp Liya is inside Camp Bondsteel, a U.S. Army base, and Camp As Sayliyah is a converted U.S. army base. Although a government official has said Humanitarian City is “solely” controlled by the Emirati government, State department representatives visit there twice a week, according to a news report

U.S. government officials are well aware of the reports that Afghans face human rights abuses in these facilities, including rape, medical neglect, and denial of food and water. At a February 2023 State Department briefing, spokesperson Ned Price said it would address concerns about mistreatment at Humanitarian City. In August 2021, Qatari officials warned their U.S. counterparts about the “deteriorating health and security conditions” in the facilities housing Afghans, even raising concerns about human trafficking. 

For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights case page.

Muslim Advocates is a national civil rights organization that uses litigation, policy engagement and communications strategies to promote justice and equity while protecting the diverse spectrum of Muslim communities from anti-Muslim discrimination in all of its forms.

The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Follow the Center for Constitutional Rights on Facebook, @theCCR on Twitter, and ccrjustice on Instagram.