Thursday, 21 October 2021
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
82. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the progress to date on the processing of visas, including family reunification applications, for Afghan nationals arising from the fall of the democratically elected Government in Afghanistan; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51544/21]
What progress has been made on the processing of visa applications, including family reunification applications, for Afghan nationals, arising from the fall of the democratically elected Government in Afghanistan? Will the Minister outline the progress that has been made to date?
I thank Deputy Burke for raising this very important question. I share his concerns for the Afghan people and the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.
Ireland has acted swiftly and compassionately to demonstrate our support and solidarity with the Afghan people. My Department is working closely with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ensure a co-ordinated national response. This includes opening the Irish refugee protection programme under the remit of the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to Afghan persons in need of protection and working to ensure that applications received from Afghan nationals under the various State schemes for immigration residence and international protection can be prioritised for speedier processing where possible. These schemes provide avenues for Afghan nationals to seek protection and for eligible family members living in Ireland to seek to have their close family members granted permission to reside in Ireland where the relevant criteria are met. More than 740 Afghan nationals have been granted permission to reside in the State so far this year.
The Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and I have secured Government approval for an additional initiative, namely the special Afghan admission programme, which will provide places for up to 500 Afghan family members. Each applicant will have an opportunity to nominate up to four family members who are currently residing in Afghanistan or who have fled to neighbouring territories and who they consider are especially at risk in terms of their freedom and safety. The programme, including the detailed eligibility criteria and the application process, will be developed over the coming months with a view to issuing a call for applications in December. The programme is unique across the European Union and was hailed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, as a very welcome commitment by Ireland that will bring much solace to Afghans who are worried about their relatives abroad.
In the meantime, all current immigration avenues remain open for new applications, including visa and family reunification applications. My Department will process any new applications received speedily and sympathetically.
Can the Minister of State outline how long it is taking to process applications from the time they come into the Department? In addition, I have written to the Minister about people who are part of the judicial process in Afghanistan and who are very vulnerable because of certain decisions they made when the democratically elected Government was in place. Can priority be given to that group of people, who are now at serious risk?
I also thank Deputy Burke for raising this question. It is extremely important. I have been in contact with both Departments about a constituent of mine who has family in Afghanistan. Members of the family previously worked for the Afghan Government, one in a particularly high-profile position. That person is now going from safe house to safe house and is being protected by his family. It is an extremely serious case and I urge that it be considered. Evidence has shown that this person is particularly high-profile and at real risk. His family and their friends who are helping this person are also at serious risk, and we know that the Taliban is going from door to door searching for this person.
I reiterate that what Ireland is doing about the Afghan situation is unique. Between our Department - the Minister, Deputy Humphreys, and me - and the Ministers, Deputies O'Gorman and Coveney, significant steps have been taken to help the Afghan people inasmuch as we can as one nation. We are encouraging other nations across the European Union and the European Union itself to do similar. I do not have to hand the specific numbers for the applications that have been processed but I can get them to the Deputy later today because I know they are available. What I can say is that any applications for visas from Afghan people are being processed as a matter of priority and have moved to the top of the list. As for the Judiciary and high-profile cases, there are a number of cases ongoing. I do not want to give any details, but a number of cases are being worked on closely with the Irish Judiciary and the Department.
Finally, is the Minister of State satisfied that, once the applications are processed, we have adequate support measures in place for the people coming here? He might not be able to give me an answer here and now, but I would like to get details of the process and the level of supports in place.
That is absolutely correct. We need to ensure that for anybody coming here the supports are put in place. That is why we have worked with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, in that respect. As in many cases, the supports that need to be put in place need to be worked on with the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, to ensure they are put in place. They would include, for example, school and mental health supports and other health protections. We are ensuring that those are in place for anybody who comes here. Of course, we have other commitments in respect of other refugees such as Syrians. We have a strong, robust process in place to ensure that those supports are there for any refugees coming to Ireland, and we will ensure that the same happens for the Afghan people.