A protest outside Leinster House last year urging the government to welcome more Afghan refugees. Alamy Stock Photo
Department of Justice

Ireland's 'onerous' Afghan refugee programme has zero decisions in year since Taliban takeover

The scheme was designed to help Afghans travel to Ireland to stay with family members who are already living in the State.

A YEAR SINCE the Taliban returned to power and five months since applications stopped being accepted for Ireland’s special programme to help Afghans, no decisions have yet been issued on over 500 applications from people seeking temporary residence.

In the 12 months since the militant islamist group’s dramatic seizure of power, Afghanistan has been plunged into a stark humanitarian crisis with over half the its population going hungry, according to the latest figures from the UN’s World Food Programme.

In response to the crisis, Ireland created a special scheme – the Afghan Admissions Programme (AAP) – to help Afghans travel to Ireland to stay with family members who were already living in the State.

The programme opened in December last year and was limited to 500 places, with each resident here able to nominate up to four Afghan family members for a place. When it closed in March it had received a total of 528 applications.

Despite the deadline passing five months ago, the Department of Justice has yet to issue decisions on any of the applications, leaving Afghans in limbo as they seek to join their family in Ireland.

Ciara Ross of the Irish Refugee Council said the long wait for decisions has left the applicants feeling left behind.

“The wait is hard for people. I’ve got a client who is an Irish citizen now, so is his wife, his mother and he has three children in Ireland. He’s had one brother kidnapped by the Taliban and one brother was killed by the Taliban,” Ross explained.

“They feel kind of left behind. They couldn’t get a visa waiver and they don’t have a decision. They’re living in Ireland. They’re waiting. They’ve seen the Ukrainian war with 65,000 potentially earmarked to enter before the end of the year. They’re all visa waivers.

“It’s a narrow little program as it is and now it’s been half a year waiting for any decisions at all.”

From its creation, NGOs raised concerns about the Afghan Admission Programme, particularly the financial burden it placed on the applicants and how difficult it was to qualify for.

Nasc, the migrant and refugee rights centre, said the structure of the programme is “very problematic”.

“The scheme had some of the most onerous requirements we had ever seen,” Nasc CEO Fiona Hurley said.

“By way of example, the Afghan Admission Programme required the sponsor in Ireland to show that they had accommodation available for their family members at the time of application.

“Months on, anyone who did try to secure extra accommodation at the start of the year to fulfil the requirements of the application would have been paying rent on an empty property for months.

“Our Advocacy Team supported people as they broke down in tears when they saw the AAP details and realised they didn’t meet the conditions to apply. The reality of life in Afghanistan is one of extreme poverty and danger for many people,” Hurley added.

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said the applications are currently being assessed and decisions will be issued “in the coming months”.

The delay in processing the applications and the low numbers of Afghans being permitted to travel to Ireland stands in stark contrast with how the State has responded to the Ukrainian refugee crisis.

Visa free travel arrangements for Ukrainians were introduced the day after Russia launched its invasion in February and, as of Monday, over 45,000 Ukrainian nationals have arrived in the State.

Along with the AAP, Ireland issued almost 600 humanitarian visa waivers to Afghans under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP).

These were largely granted to human rights workers and others who are particularly at risk under Taliban rule. However, travel and border issues have resulted in dozens of the people who were granted the waivers not being able to travel to Ireland.

As well as this, the Department of Justice said a total of 135 ‘join family’ visas have been approved for Afghan nationals and 77 family reunification applications have been approved.

Hurley said Ireland needs to do more to help Afghans reunite with family members who are already in Ireland.

“One year on from the Taliban return to power, we must not forget the Afghans left behind and we should be doing more to ensure that Afghans in Ireland have realistic pathways to sponsor their family members to join them in Ireland.

“The war in Ukraine is closer to us geographically and receives far more media and political coverage, but the international community made commitments to Afghans last year and should deliver on those commitments.”

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