Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Afghanistan Crisis: Statements
I welcome this week's announcement of approval by the Cabinet for a special admission programme for Afghan nationals. While it is welcome, I have some recommendations that have been articulated very succinctly by Deputy Gannon and the Irish Refugee Council.
I feel the proposed commencement date should be brought forward to October to reflect the urgency of the situation in Afghanistan and the real risk to individuals there at the moment. I also feel it needs to remain open for a reasonable length of time to allow people to submit their applications and to gather the necessary documentation. I am also concerned that the proposed 500 places will be inadequate to meet demand, and I get a sense there is a belief we will be taking in additional Afghans in the future. That is to be welcomed.
A large number of Irish-Afghan community family members are at risk, as are many Afghan families who have made a connection with Ireland or Irish aid and humanitarian workers and communities in the region. I am pleased the guidelines for the new scheme identify that it will prioritise those who are especially vulnerable in terms of risk to their freedom and safety. This also includes people whose previous employment exposed them to greater risk, for example, UN and EU employees, and people who worked for civil society organisations in Afghanistan.
Prior to this week's announcement I have already brought to the attention of the various Ministers the situation pertaining to three Afghan families. In those specific cases, their applications would be challenged under the new guidelines as they are five- or six-person family units, as opposed to the guideline specification of a family unit as four people. I am anxious that all three families are considered under the programme as their situation has been brought to my attention by Longford native Ms Rose Kane, who is currently working with the UN in Sudan. Previously, Rose would have worked closely with the lead applicants in each family during her time in Kabul as part of an international humanitarian effort. One of the applicants is a lawyer currently working for a local non-governmental organisation, the Supporting Vulnerable People organisation, and has a long record of human rights effort with an emphasis on women's rights in Afghanistan. The people of Longford are especially proud that Rose and many others have put their hands up and committed to humanitarian aid and effort overseas. It is very much the mark of a modern nation and a compassionate community that we are prepared to step forward and champion those faced with the darkest of challenges. Both my constituent and her colleague from County Mayo are very supportive of these applications and, indeed, Mayo man Mark Flanagan is one of 75 UN international staff who have remained in Afghanistan to keep humanitarian operations running in the most difficult circumstances.
This House truly appreciates and understands that the security situation in Kabul is deteriorating, day by day. It will be necessary to have all the paperwork in order and to take the opportunity when it comes to allow people to travel safely out of Kabul. For that reason, it is critical we bring forward the commencement date of the new resettlement scheme to October.
I thank the Ministers involved, in particular the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney, for the chance to come here today and articulate the case for these families. I would hope they can be included in a resettlement programme that I, as an Irish citizen, am immensely proud of.