Thursday, 7 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
105. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of refugees accepted from Afghanistan since 1 August 2021; the status of the acceptance of refugees from Syria under the Ireland refugee protection programme, IRPP, II; the challenge that exist in taking larger numbers of refugees from both crisis zones; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48693/21]
115. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of refugees from Afghanistan that have been accepted into the IRPP following the seizing of power by the Taliban in August 2021; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48302/21]
118. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the number of refugees from Afghanistan who have been accepted into the IRPP following the seizing of power by the Taliban in August 2021; the background of persons who have been granted permission to come to Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48310/21]
119. To ask the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth the status of the assistance he and his Department have provided to date in regard to the vulnerable children and their families fleeing the crisis in Afghanistan; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [48446/21]
We all watched the events in Afghanistan with horror. The Irish people immediately wanted to help. Will the Minister tell me the number of refugees accepted from Afghanistan since 1 August 2021?
I propose to take Questions Nos. 105, 115, 118 and 119 together.
In response to the crisis in Afghanistan, my Department, through the IRPP, has made approximately 400 refugee places available for humanitarian places from Afghanistan.
Since August, 189 Afghan nationals from 49 families have entered Ireland from Afghanistan under the IRPP of whom 76 are aged under 18 years. Further arrivals are expected over the coming weeks. A further 13 Afghan nationals, or three families, arrived in Ireland in September on foot of Ireland's pledge to relocate refugee families from Greece following the fires in the Moria camp on Lesbos. The cohort relocating from Greece also included 39 Syrian refugees, comprising eight families.
My Department has co-operated with a wide range of organisations, including Amnesty International, the Irish Refugee Council, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, to identify individuals and families whom we could welcome to Ireland under the Irish refugee protection programme. We have prioritised human rights defenders, people who have been supporting women's organisations, members of the LGBTI+ community, journalists and those who are most at risk from the Taliban takeover.
While responding to the needs emerging from the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan, we continue to meet our existing international humanitarian obligations, particularly in continuing to bring Syrian refugees from camps in Lebanon and Jordan to Ireland. I am pleased to report that the IRPP recently undertook and completed a mission to Lebanon, interviewing over 260 individuals with a view to providing them with refugee status here in Ireland. A further selection mission for Syrian refugees in Jordan will take place next month. The IRPP aims to transfer selected refugees from both missions to Ireland as soon as possible.
The IRPP supports are normally intensive in nature because of the vulnerability of many programme refugees. Programme refugees qualify for housing provided by local authorities or through community sponsorship groups. They also have access to intensive English language supports provided by the education and training boards across the country. Conscious of the dangers experienced by many Afghans, the IRPP has sought to respond innovatively to this crisis, including by seeking support from potential refugee sponsors and civil society organisations to enable it to maximise the number of places available on its programme for Afghan nationals.
It is expected that not all arrivals from Afghanistan will need the supports normally extended to refugee families, such as language classes and orientation. Refugees will be assisted to access services such as education and health services by the IRPP. The provision of assistance with travel to Ireland is being examined, where required. Accommodation is being sourced through a range of initiatives including, but not limited to, public pledges and community sponsorship. This is intended to ensure that we do not place additional pressure on local authorities' housing resources, where possible, and to enable Afghan refugees to be admitted as programme refugees and to have access to employment at an early stage.
I particularly recognise the community sponsorship model that has been used and implemented by many groups across the country. Under Community Sponsorship Ireland, a trained group of people in a community come together and commit to supporting a refugee family with education, employment, medical supports and housing for a period of up 18 months after a family arrives in Ireland. This helps to prepare refugee families for a new and independent life in Ireland. It has been absolutely crucial in integrating families who have experienced absolutely incredible fear and terror in initially leaving their home countries before possibly spending many years living in incredibly precarious circumstances in a refugee camp. These community sponsorship groups are helping to integrate these families into their local communities. It is a really selfless act. My Department continues to support these groups. As I said when speaking on Afghanistan earlier this week, if any Deputies know people in their own constituency who are interested in setting up a community sponsorship group, I ask them to please get in touch so that we can provide them with all of the relevant information.
Ireland has previously joined with the international community in highlighting that any future provision of support to the Afghan Government will be conditional on its protection and promotion of human rights, especially for women, girls and minorities. Like all of us, I was particularly concerned about reports of violence and coercion against women and girls, including reports of forced marriage, sexual violence and serious human rights abuses perpetrated against civilians across Afghanistan. Ireland acted swiftly and compassionately to demonstrate our support for, and solidarity with, the Afghan people. The Minister and his Department are to be applauded. This is an important development. There are many in Ireland with deep concerns for family members who have remained in crisis. Almost 250 places were allocated on the IRPP for Afghan citizens who have worked on human rights issues. Everything that we do to assist is of great importance. What is the situation regarding accepting Syrian refugees under the IRPP?
I share the Deputy's concerns. From my direct engagement with members of the Afghan community living here in Ireland, I know that things are very bad in Afghanistan right now. The PR savvy approach we saw from the Taliban in the initial weeks is not reflected in life in the country. That is why, in providing for refugees, we have targeted those who are most vulnerable including women, people who support women, people who are in the LGBTI+ community and journalists.
The Deputy is absolutely right about Syria. We have a pre-existing commitment to bring 2,900 Syrian refugees to Ireland by 2025. As I have said, we accepted a group of 50 in September. They arrived in Ireland in mid-September. We had a mission in Beirut with a view to bringing over a further 260 refugees. We are sending a mission to Jordan next month to organise the next group.
There are challenges in taking large numbers of refugees from both regions. Do we have the resources? That is the thing. Do we have the wraparound supports? I know the Minister spoke about them. They are part of the solution he is working on. I am also concerned that we are in the process of ending direct provision. A number of issues are arising after resettlement. That is another priority for the Minister. It is very important. One area I am particularly interested in is that of education for the children and young adults who come here. My office has received queries regarding the Student Universal Support Ireland grant. This scheme is not available to those who have not lived in Ireland for three years or more. We are offering safety and security. We also need to offer housing, education and opportunity. It is very important that we give opportunities. I know the Department is working on that. We all have concerns. I thank the Minister for addressing them today.
The Deputy has raised a number of key international humanitarian obligations that this Government recognises as priorities, as does everyone across the country. We do have the resources. In last year's budget, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, provided my Department with an extra €5 million that we used to specifically target unaccompanied minors. These are young people under the age of 18 who do not have any family and who have fled. Many such young people are on the island of Lesbos in Greece. Between this month and last month, we brought over 28 unaccompanied minors. We provide them with supports which are very resource intensive, but which are very necessary, in residential care centres or specifically designed foster care situations. I recognise Tusla for launching Fáilte Care, which provides fostering designed specifically for unaccompanied minors. I met some of the families. They are absolutely amazing. I recognise the work that is being done.