Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Afghanistan Crisis: Statements
I am sharing time minutes with other Members.
I thank both Ministers for their statements on the devastating situation in Afghanistan and for the people in that part of the world. There are many Afghans in Ireland who have been here for many years and who are very concerned about their family members and others whom they know in that country and how they can manage through this situation.
I also pay tribute to the great number of human rights activists and workers on the ground who have done such great work over the past number of years, in particular since this crisis emerged. I especially welcome the introduction of the Afghan admission programme announced by the Department of Justice yesterday allowing an additional 500 people to resettle in Ireland. Indeed, at the time that the crisis unfolded a number of weeks ago, I joined the calls of many others asking for a proportionate approach to be taken to the resettlement campaign. It is good that the Department has heeded those calls. Indeed, everything should be done to provide flexibility for people trying to leave Afghanistan because before the Taliban took over, it was difficult for many people get travel documents, passports, etc. to leave. It is even worse now as we are hearing reports now of people having passports and travel documents confiscated and they cannot leave because of that. An element of flexibility is needed in respect of all of this.
I also pay tribute to the tireless work of the emergency consular aid team, ECAT, that was sent to Afghanistan by the Department of Foreign Affairs. We heard of the relentless efforts of that team to locate and provide safe passage for Irish passport and visa holders across the airways since the Taliban took over, sometimes at significant risk to themselves.
While I understand that the mess in Afghanistan is certainly not of Ireland’s making, it is probably an issue where we can look more to NATO, the US and other big players on the world stage as to how we got into this situation. At the same time, our seat on the UN Security Council gives us the ability to influence how the situation can be dealt with as it progresses.
Sinn Féin believes that the international community has an opportunity to offer aid to Afghanistan conditional upon reform and the upholding of human rights for all of the citizens, and in particular, for women and minorities. We have all heard about the Taliban carrying out door-to-door searches to identify anyone who poses a threat to their Islamic emirate. Women are, once again, being targeted by them. Before the takeover, one third of the government employees in Kabul were women. We now have testimonies of women being ordered not to return to work, with the exception of women who cannot be replaced by men. Despite the initial promises to be tolerant and inclusive, restrictions have also been introduced on girls attending school. The ministry of women's affairs has been replaced by the ministry for the propagation of virtue and the prevention of vice, which is tasked with enforcing Islamic law.
Protests against the Taliban’s rollback on social progress have been quashed by Taliban forces. Members of the LGBTQI community live in fear of their lives, many of whom are going into hiding or changing their locations for fear of being denounced by their neighbours or even by their own families.
There is a significant issue with the supply of drugs and we need to bear this in mind. There was a recent seizure in India of almost three tonnes of heroin worth €2.72 billion from Afghanistan. Indeed heroin production has been a major source of funding for the Taliban’s campaign since before its return to power and will continue to be so. Afghanistan already supplies between 80% to 90% of the world’s heroin. This situation will worsen as economic conditions in Afghanistan deteriorate. If the international community cannot stabilise Afghanistan, that supply is only going to increase and cause more problems in other parts of the world so this is a completely urgent situation.
When we talk about Afghanistan, much of the discussion is on terrorism and foreign-policy sanctions but we at times forget the people who are left behind and who cannot leave as they are trapped there. Afghanistan is on the brink of an economic meltdown with much of the social infrastructure built up over the past 20 years at the point of collapse. Basic services such as healthcare and education are faltering because teachers and medics are not being paid. For 20 years the economy was run by grants and aid to the tune of $20 trillion, which has effectively been switched off overnight. Coupled with the withdrawal of aid and basic services, everything is quickly breaking down.
We must recognise and understand that the occupation of Afghanistan for 20 years was a dismal failure. Little of the €20 trillion spent every day in Afghanistan was seen to help or assist the ordinary people of this country. We see that reflected in the ease with which the Taliban were able to take over. Had that money been spent to build an inclusive society and build civic leadership within that society, we would be in a different situation. It simply was not. The emphasis was on security and on counterinsurgency measures. Those counter-insurgency measures have, in the long term, been a complete failure because they do not provide for people and only provide for the egos of those in NATO and other organisations who set out with a particular agenda. That is the problem and is why we are in this particular situation.
People are now facing a serious drought and food shortages throughout Afghanistan. This will also lead to further serious, civil unrest and possibly even famine and we also have to be prepared for that. Currently, 2 million children are suffering from malnutrition and 7.3 million people are affected by drought. Afghanistan needs food, water, dams and infrastructure but, above all else, it needs external aid. We believe that any interaction to provide aid into that country can only be brokered on the condition of reform and we have to work to ensure that happens. That is not to say it will be easy. It will be a long and complex process but it is vital that the people of Afghanistan are not abandoned by the international community and I implore the Minister of State to consider what can be done, and in particular, to use our place on the UN Security Council to ensure that we can make certain that the ordinary people of Afghanistan get fair play out of all of this and are looked after because they have not been looked after to date.