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Protestors outside Leinster House in support of Afghan women Alamy Stock Photo

No Afghan refugees accepted through Admissions Programme due to 'insufficient information'

The Department of Justice has asked for DNA testing in some instances.

THERE HAVE BEEN no applications accepted under Ireland’s special Afghan admissions programme since it was launched, despite the government saying it would make 500 places available last September. 

The delay in processing the applications has been due to “insufficient information” being provided, according to the Department of Justice which is administering the scheme.

Over a year on from the Taliban returning to power in Afghanistan, the Afghan Admissions Programme (AAP) has not fully processed one application.

The scheme was set up in the immediate aftermath of the Taliban seizing power in Afghanistan and was intended to be used to bring over immediate family members of Afghans living in Ireland. 

The plan’s initial aim was to provide assistance to the most vulnerable, including the elderly, women, girls and people with disabilities.

The AAP was announced in September and officially opened last December, with 500 temporary places being made available by the Department of Justice.

When applications closed on 11 March, there were 528 applications submitted.

Since then, no decisions have been issued by the Department of Justice on the 528 applications.

In response to a Parliamentary Question by Social Democrats TD, Holly Cairns, Justice Minister Helen McEntee confirmed that there were no decisions made yet but added that all applications would be examined in a “pragmatic and humanitarian manner”.

“I understand that this is a difficult situation for our Afghan community and their loved ones. I would also like to assure the Afghan community that applications under this Programme continue to be assessed in a pragmatic and humanitarian manner with a view to issuing decisions as soon as possible,” McEntee said.

However, in a separate response to a question from Independent TD Catherine Connolly, McEntee said that the delay in processing these application was due to insufficient information being provided by family members of people seeking to access the scheme.

“The information was requested to ensure the Programme benefitted its intended beneficiaries, and that my Department was satisfied as to the identities of both the proposers and their family members coming to Ireland,” McEntee said.

“My Department reviewed the information received with a humanitarian and pragmatic eye, but unfortunately in many cases the information provided was not sufficient to process the application to its conclusion.”

McEntee added that any proposers who did not provide sufficient information would be contacted by the Department and asked to provide it within the next 20 days.

Announcing the scheme in September 2021, then-Justice Minister Heather Humphries claimed the Cabinet agreement for the programme was “concrete demonstration” of Ireland’s support and solidarity with the Afghan people. 

“We are introducing a special Afghan Admission Programme, with an allocation of up to 500 places. This will allow current or former Afghan nationals living in Ireland to apply to bring their close Afghan family members to Ireland to live with them,” she added. 

“We will be prioritising those who are especially vulnerable in terms of the risk to their freedom and safety, such as: older people; children; single female parents; single women and girls; people with disabilities; and people whose previous employment exposes them to greater risk, for example UN and EU employees and people who worked for civil society organisations.”

Nasc, the Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, have said that they were “really disappointed” that no decisions have been issued under the programme.

Brian Collins, the Advocacy Service Manager at Nasc said that while there appears to have been some progression on AAP cases, there are many being held back due to the high threshold for documentation required by the Department of Justice.

“Fundamentally, the threshold that was put in place was very high and very challenging for people to meet those requirements,” said Collins, saying that due to the Taliban’s takeover it has become difficult for people to obtain key documentation.

People are expected to provide original certified documents or “true copies” (photocopies with a signature from a notary public or solicitor).

Collins told The Journal that there were difficulties in both obtaining and sending off the documentation, adding that one client seeking assistance from Nasc was physically assaulted when trying to access documentation needed under the AAP.

Under the scheme, the Department requires significant amounts of documentation, from both the proposer and the people seeking admission to Ireland.

This includes both proof of identity as well as ‘proof of relationship’ documentation, with the Department having a requirement for DNA testing to prove a relationship in some cases. This has been the case when the Department are satisfied that the relationship is genuine, but there is not enough supporting documentation.

Collins said that the Government should take a “pragmatic and compassionate” approach to applications under the AAP.

“I think that they should try and adopt a pragmatic and compassionate approach as much as possible,” Collins said.

“Obviously, certain things need to be established in order to proceed with applications but I think that they should be very aware of the reality of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.

“Ultimately, this is a scheme intended to serve people who are at risk.”

When asked if he thought the ongoing crisis around accommodation Ukrainian refugees had left others by the wayside, Collins said that it was important that the Government “don’t forget other conflicts”.

“I think a lot of resources have been diverted towards dealing with the Ukrainian response, which is understandable but equally, we have clients coming from Afghanistan who are really concerned.

“We can’t just leave them waiting indefinitely for a response.”

Cairns said that it was “shocking” no applications under the scheme had been accepted so far.

“Afghanistan is currently in the grips of an economic crisis, with six million Afghans at risk of famine this winter, while girls have been denied an education and women have been forced to leave their jobs since the Taliban took over,” Cairns told The Journal.

“LGBTQI+ Afghans are also at huge risk of persecution, and even death, under the Taliban regime.

“It is shameful that not a single application, under this desperately needed humanitarian scheme, has been approved in nearly a year.”

While no applications under the AAP have been accepted, McEntee says that 140 join family visas have been approved for Afghan nationals, alongside 94 family reunion applications being granted.

The join family visas were made available to people living in Afghanistan seeking to join relatives who were Irish citizens. The AAP meanwhile was for Afghan persons currently living in Ireland, who could apply to bring up to four immediate members of their family to Ireland from Afghanistan.

In the immediate aftermath of the Taliban regaining control in Afghanistan, there were over 600 visa waivers provided to Afghan nationals under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP).

These visa waivers were primarily focused on bringing over women, frontline workers, human rights activists and members of the LGBTQI+ community.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said:

“The Department remains focused on processing applications for family reunification made under all admission avenues, including the Afghan Admissions Programme for family members of Afghan nationals living in Ireland.

“It is recognised that all applicants for family reunification would wish to have a decision on their application made without delay. However, the nature of the process is such that, these cases are taking time to process.

“All possible efforts are being made to bring family reunification applications, across the range of avenues open to applicants, to a swift conclusion.

“This is a difficult situation for our Afghan community and their loved ones. The Department can assure the Afghan community that applications under this Programme continue to be assessed in a pragmatic and humanitarian manner with a view to issuing decisions as soon as possible.”

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