Dáil debates

Wednesday, 29 September 2021

Afghanistan Crisis: Statements


5:22 pm

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Wexford, Labour) | Oireachtas source

I begin by expressing my appreciation to the Business Committee for scheduling this truly important debate at the request of my colleague, Deputy Duncan Smith, with whom I will share time.

Like millions of others, I watched with fear and concern as the Taliban forces advanced towards Kabul in August and regained total control of Afghanistan. We were aware of the type of regime the Taliban implemented 20 years ago, when it was last in power in Afghanistan, with the oppression of women, the exclusion of girls and women from education, employment and public life itself and the brutal implementation of a variety of Sharia law, including amputations and death by stoning. The world cannot be blind or indifferent to that type of regime being established yet again and to half of the population of a nation being literally removed and obliterated from society.

There are a number of different, but urgent, issues that we, as a small country, can address. The World Food Programme warned last week that only 5% of the people of Afghanistan had enough food to eat. The ongoing drought, soaring prices and economic collapse are together building a humanitarian disaster. Our first task is to work to ensure that the world, acting together, provides sufficient food for the Afghan people to survive the coming winter and provides shelter for the millions of displaced people in Afghanistan to be able to endure the coming harsh weather. I listened to colleagues say that our support has to be conditional on change. I understand that. It is a major moral dilemma for us. However, I do not believe we have any choice but to provide, in these days, weeks and months, whatever is needed to the people of Afghanistan to allow them to live. We can certainly deal with the Taliban authorities, refuse to recognise them and even hold off releasing their international funds, but we must get food, shelter and relief to the people immediately.

Our second task is to address and support the millions of Afghans who are refugees in neighbouring countries, notably in Pakistan and Iran. These are people who fled for their lives, bringing virtually nothing with them. There are up to 3 million refugees in Iran. They fear being returned because the Iranian authorities say they will return them. Conditions in Pakistan are precarious too. The inflation rate there is 9% and there is huge pressure on existing natural resources. Pakistan has had 1.5 million Afghan refugees for decades and hundreds of thousands more have arrived in recent weeks. It cannot be expected to be able to carry that burden without significant aid.

Third, what can Ireland do immediately? Yesterday, as other Members have acknowledged, it was announced that up to 500 Afghans are to be given temporary residency rights in the State. A special admission programme for family members of the 1,200 Afghans living in the State will allow up to 500 to come here. I listened carefully to the Minister of State, Deputy James Browne, on the radio yesterday. The families here would be required to house and maintain them. There are also limits on the number per family to be allowed in. The impossible task of selecting which of their family members in peril, sometimes in peril of their lives, can come is to be left to the Afghan families residing here. Of course, since they have to be maintained and housed by them, it is also, in essence, a means-tested scheme. We have to think again about that. We cannot ask people to carry that burden.

There is much more that must be said about these matters, but I want to give time to my colleague. However, I hope the Government will discuss that particular programme with the Opposition and think again.


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