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In the reception area of the clinic at Emirates Humanitarian City, a vast compound sheltering up to 8,500 Afghan evacuees in Abu Dhabi, dozens of families wait calmly to see a team of doctors to address their medical needs.
Leaning against one of the clinic walls is 15-year-old Khaled. He and his family were brought to EHC on an evacuation flight from Kabul.
Next to him is his friend, Zabi, who is 13.
“I am here with my parents, but he is here alone,” Khaled says.
The National has changed the names of both children to protect their privacy.
Zabi, originally from a province in Afghanistan north of Kabul, said that he was able to cross Taliban checkpoints outside Kabul airport without receiving a second glance, possibly because of his young age.
Once inside the airport, which was until recently under the control of US forces, Zabi was loaded for his own safety on to an evacuation flight bound for Abu Dhabi.
When asked what Taliban guards said when they saw him trying to enter the airport alone, Zabi responds with a confident smile: “What are they going to say?”
Zabi and Khaled only met after arriving at EHC, and have since become good friends.
“I’ll look out for him once we get to America,” Khaled said.
Zabi is not the only unaccompanied minor who has arrived in the UAE for processing. According to US embassy officials, there are “a few” cases like his.
Evacuees are housed in EHC temporarily, having any paperwork checked and receiving medical care as they are processed for resettlement overseas.
New arrivals are quarantined as a precaution for the majority of their time at EHC, and are tested for Covid-19. They are allowed out of their rooms for processing and appointments at the clinic.
Volunteers at EHC deliver supplies, including food, baby formula, phone chargers and extra clothing, to the evacuees’ rooms. Evacuees are given a WhatsApp number so they can contact the volunteers at any time.
Most evacuees will depart on chartered flights to the US. Upon arrival, American officials will arrange for them to settle in various parts of the country, in collaboration with a number of US government agencies, NGOs and community associations.
It is unclear whether there is a standardised procedure for unaccompanied minors like Zabi.
It was also unclear when he spoke to The National whether he truly understood the extent to which his life was about to change.
“I’m not afraid,” Zabi says. “I’m happy to be out.”