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Coveney announces €1 million in funding to support people of Afghanistan

Human rights groups have today called on Ireland to resettle at least 1,000 Afghan refugees.

Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Hundreds of people gather near a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane at a perimeter at the international airport in Kabul, Afghanistan.
Image: Shekib Rahmani

Updated Aug 17th 2021, 8:00 PM

THE GOVERNMENT HAS announced €1 million in humanitarian funding to support the people of Afghanistan. 

The funding will be provided to the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide urgent support to people in Afghanistan, as well as to those who have fled into neighbouring countries. 

The UNHCR has issued a global appeal for $62.8m to respond to the current crisis in Afghanistan.

Ireland’s contribution to the UNHCR appeal will support emergency response programmes in Afghanistan, as well as supporting Afghan refugees in Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

“The situation in the country is incredibly worrying. Even before the events of the last few weeks there were already almost three million Afghans displaced from their homes by insecurity. That figure is now rising,” Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said today as he announced the funding. 

“Ireland will continue to engage, including at the UN Security Council, to support peace in Afghanistan and to protect and promote the human rights of all Afghans, especially for women and girls,” he said. 

“Ireland has also called for full and safe humanitarian access to allow life-saving support to reach all Afghans, including to respond to the urgent needs of families forced to flee their homes.” 

EU declaration

This evening Coveney participated in an emergency meeting of EU Foreign Ministers today to discuss the situation in Afghanistan.

The Foreign Affairs Council issued a Declaration after the meeting, reiterating the EU’s commitment to the protection and promotion of human rights in Afghanistan, in particular those of women and girls, and of minorities.

It also said that Afghanistan must honour its international obligations under the UN Charter. They also discussed the coordination of evacuation efforts, to ensure that EU citizens seeking to leave Afghanistan are facilitated to do so as soon as possible.  

Coveney said: “I welcome the EU Declaration which we were able to agree at today’s meeting. In the discussion with my European colleagues I expressed Ireland’s grave concern at the situation for women and girls in Afghanistan, as we also made clear at the UN Security Council yesterday.  

“EU Member States are coordinating intensively on the evacuation of EU citizens, as well as on Afghan staff working with EU Embassies and organisations. Good progress was made in today’s discussion, although the situation on the ground in Kabul remains fluid, including in relation to access to the airport.” 

Human rights

Meanwhile, a number of human rights organisations have called on the Government to increase the number of resettlement places for Afghan refugees and to expedite international protection applications amid the ongoing crisis in Afghanistan. 

The Irish Refugee Council, Amnesty International and the Movement of Asylum Seekers in Ireland (Masi) among others have called for Ireland to commit to resettling a minimum of 1,000 Afghan refugees and to participate in a wider EU relocation scheme. 

The calls come after it was confirmed Ireland will provide up to 150 additional humanitarian visas for Afghans under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP). 

This is in addition to 45 visas already approved in recent days for Afghans in similar circumstances.

The Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman said the people who will receive these visas have been identified and work is underway to get them out of Afghanistan. 

Speaking to RTÉ radio’s News at One, O’Gorman said the individuals include vulnerable groups, those working in human rights and “frontline defenders”.

“We have identified these individuals and we’re working to get them out of the country,” O’Gorman said. 

“We’ll be working to get them onto flights maybe coming from EU partners and also any chartered flights that are exiting the country in the next number of days and weeks.” 

These people will be accompanied by their immediate families, the minister said.

They will undergo hotel quarantine upon their arrival and then proceed under the IRPP. They will not stay in Direct Provision centres, O’Gorman added. 

The human rights groups groups today called on the Government to increase staff and support for the Community Sponsorship programme which they said “can lead the response in this crisis”. 

Ireland set itself a target of 1,350 resettled refugees in 2020 and 2021 but due to Covid-19 only approximately 250 people have been resettled leaving 1,100 places on the programme unfilled, they said. 

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees there are around 96,000 Afghan people in need of resettlement around the world but in particular in neighbouring countries. 

The organisations also called on the Department of Justice and the International Protection Office to provide protection to Afghan applicants currently in Ireland. 

Approximately 70 Afghan people have applied for international protection in Ireland this year, according to the organisations, with 211 Afghan nationals currently living in Direct Provision. 

Afghan nationals are already on the prioritisation lists given the circumstances in the country, however projected waiting times are currently 19.5 months for prioritised applications, as reported by The Journal last week. 

In addition to this, the organisations today called on Ireland to “proactively identify people who have worked with the EU, humanitarian organisations and their partners and women and girls at risk of persecution” and to fast-track family reunification applications. 

They also have asked the Government to introduce an Irish Humanitarian Admission Programme (IHAP) to enable Afghans living in Ireland to apply for extended family members such as parents and siblings. 

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin today said Ireland needs to take an “appropriate” number of refugees from Afghanistan in the coming weeks and months.

“We absolutely have to take an appropriate number of refugees in the same way as we do with Syria,” Ó Broin said.

“The exact number I think that has to be negotiated,” he said.

“It is a humanitarian crisis on a scale I don’t think any of us were expecting to see.”

He called on the Government to ensure that no Afghan national currently in Ireland will be deported to Afghanistan or any other country.

“People from Afghanistan, in the asylum process, have to be guaranteed a right to stay,” he added.

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Negotiations

Today in Afghanistan, a senior Taliban leader is said to be in the capital Kabul negotiating with the city’s political leadership. 

Those involved in the talks include Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council, and former president Hamid Karzai, opposite Amir Khan Muttaqi of the Taliban.

An official said the talks are aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into a new government.

In a statement last night, the Government said Ireland “will play its part in providing practical support to some of those under threat from the Taliban by providing for their resettlement in Ireland.

“Priority will be given to those working on human rights issues, including the rights of women and girls, as well as those working with NGOs and European and international organisations.”

Speaking on behalf of the signatories of today’s letter, Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council said: “We believe, through membership of the Security Council, and other diplomatic channels, Ireland can continue to show strong humanitarian leadership on this issue. However, this needs to be backed up by concrete actions, domestically and internationally.”

Henderson also said that family reunification can also be fast tracked so family members, many of whom are likely to be in danger, can leave. 

He added: “Approximately 97 Afghan people were refused leave to land in Ireland between 1 January 2020 and 31 May 2021, people in this situation need to be given access to the protection process if needed.”

With reporting by Hayley Halpin, Niall O’Connor and Press Association

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