More than 100 American citizens and green card holders who escaped from Afghanistan — including dozens of children — are under police watch in the United Arab Emirates after the US on Tuesday denied their flight landing rights.
Bryan Stern, a founder of the nonprofit Project Dynamo, told Reuters that his group chartered a plane to evacuate the 117 people — including 59 children — after convincing the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority to let them leave following last month’s deadly Taliban takeover.
The evacuees landed at the Abu Dhabi airport on a chartered Kam Air flight and were supposed to be transferred to another plane operated by Ethiopian Airlines that had been cleared to land at New York’s JFK Airport, Stern said late Tuesday night.
But DHS changed that clearance to Dulles International Airport, outside Washington, DC, before denying it permission to land anywhere in the US, Stern said from inside the Kam Air plane.
The group was then escorted off the jet and were being kept in a locked room under the watch of Emirati police officers, Stern said in a subsequent interview with Reuters Wednesday.
“We are in custody as we speak in Abu Dhabi. All of us are locked up here together,” he said.
It is unclear why the charter flight’s permission to land in the US was revoked, however, Stern said that DHS had identified one person among the evacuees as “a problem” to authorities at Abu Dhabi airport.
“DHS reached out to the airport and said, ‘This guy doesn’t fly.’ They gave me his name. We went and found him. Told him he couldn’t fly and took him off the manifest. But I don’t know if that was the issue,” he told Reuters.
The stranded passengers comprise 28 Americans, 83 permanent lawful residents and six Afghans who were granted Special Immigration Visas for helping the US during its 20-year war in Afghanistan.
Stern said they are now scheduled to leave on a flight to Chicago on Thursday morning — of which the State Department will pay half.
The State Department told Reuters Wednesday that it was checking out the passengers aboard the plane in Abu Dhabi and expected them “to continue onward travel tomorrow morning.”
“Our embassy staff in the UAE has been working around the clock to verify the accuracy of the passenger manifest and is coordinating with DHS/Customs and Border Protection on the ground to ensure the passengers are screened and vetted before they are permitted to fly to the United States,” a State Department spokesperson said.
Project Dynamo is one of several groups formed by military veterans, current and former government officials and others in the wake of last month’s botched withdrawal of US forces and other personnel, during which President Joe Biden’s administration has admitted at least 100 Americans were left behind.