Wednesday, 29 September 2021
Afghanistan Crisis: Statements
I welcome this week's announcement of the updated Afghan admissions programme and plan for family reunification. I thank the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and the Minister of State, Deputy Brophy, for their leadership on this important issue.
Ireland has always been a world leader when it comes to offering support and aid to countries in turmoil and I am glad we have moved so quickly to support the people of Afghanistan. We have given 340 humanitarian visas to activists, those with Irish connections and women at particular risk in Afghanistan. Some 150 of them have already arrived on our shores and I know we will work to ensure the remaining people arrive here safely as soon as possible.
I welcome that we are continuing to expedite the protection applications of Afghans in Ireland and we are taking responsibility for Dublin III and inadmissible applications. This all amounts to a huge amount of support for families and for individuals living through the nightmare that has once again unfolded in Afghanistan in recent months. If we can further increase these numbers and extend our support, we absolutely should.
I thank Senator Alice-Mary Higgins who this week organised an Oireachtas briefing on the situation in Afghanistan. With all the news coverage and social media posts we see, it is easy to think we know what is going on in Afghanistan and that we understand and appreciate the trauma people are suffering when really what we see is just the tip of the iceberg. In Senator Higgins's briefing, we heard from Afghan nationals who are simply terrified for the safety and well-being of their family members. We heard horrific stories of families being torn apart, of young women and girls being kidnapped by the Taliban and used as bargaining tools to pay off their families' debts to a terrorist regime. What was their families' crime? Working for the former government and being hard-working and well-educated citizens. That was their crime.
Many had hoped that the Taliban's charm offensive of being reformed and reasonable could be believed, but that was never going to be the case. Activists are in danger, as are the outspoken, those who protest, members of the LGBTA+ community and women across Afghanistan. The past 20 years saw huge strides being made for equality and education, particularly for women, in Afghanistan. However, in a few short weeks, that has all been destroyed. Women have resumed their former place as second-class citizens. They are no longer safe, even inside their own homes.
I welcome the initiative that Ireland has taken to support and welcome Afghan citizens to our country and I hope we will do more. In August, I was inundated with messages and emails from constituents calling on the Government to support the people of Afghanistan. The people of Ireland want to welcome Afghan nationals to our nation. While I very much welcome the new family reunification measures, I am concerned about asking Afghan people in Ireland to choose which four of their family members should come to Ireland. Families do not come neatly in fours. I do not think I could make that decision and I am not in such a traumatic situation.
I would also ask that leeway around the technical elements of visas and reunification be looked at. Digital copies of passports and IDs should be accepted from those looking to come to Ireland, given the exceptional circumstances. We must also be aware that for some of these people, the location of their ID or passport might not be known to them. Perhaps they have never had a passport. Perhaps their child does not have ID. As we continue to support the people of Afghanistan and welcome them to Ireland, these are straightforward and simple steps we could take to make the process just a little easier. I hope the Minister will consider this and will continue to work with the Irish Refugee Council to support our new Afghan Irish.