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Afghan Migrant Crisis

There are two categories of visas being granted by the Irish Government in response to the Afghan crisis. The majority are for family reunification while a significantly smaller amount are for people who are in danger of being personally targeted by the Taliban.

Initially approximately 45 humanitarian visas were granted to individual Afghans around mid August. These were granted to those “working on human rights issues, including the rights of women, girls, and minorities as well as those working with NGOs and European and international organisations”.

The Irish Government then announced that it would grant visas to a further 150 Afghans under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme - they wouldn’t have to apply in the normal way and wouldn’t have to be accommodated in Direct Provision.

The same criteria applied here. The visas would be granted to human rights workers and those working in NGOs.

The Government then indicated that a further 150 visas would be granted; but this time under family reunification and applications already on hand. It is not clear how many of the 150 were already on hand but given the fact that 9000 Afghans live here, and 200 are in Direct Provision, it is safe to assume that the many of these will be quickly absorbed by those already present in the State.

So far, this gave a total of 345, split evenly between those for people in danger from the Taliban and for family reunification applicants.

Finally, last weekend, it was reported in the Irish Times that the Government would grant a further 500 humanitarian visas but that all of these would be directed at family reunification.

The Irish Times reported that “this means that no new accommodation provision will be needed for the scheme, allowing to it commence in the near future”.

The total now is 845 with 650 of these for family reunification.

In other words, the vast majority of these new numbers are to be granted not on the basis of individual need nor on the need to fulfil any set criteria but on whether you already had a relative living in Ireland. Less than 200 of the total number of visas to be granted to Afghans are for people who fulfil the definition of a refugee - that is they are fleeing a well-founded fear of persecution.

Adherence to and compliance with the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Refugees is one of the most important credentials of a civilised nation. There can have been no greater demonstration of a well-founded fear of persecution than seeing desperate people cling to the wheels of departing airplanes at Kabul airport.

Providing visas under family reunification deflects the ‘whataboutery’ argument that we already have a housing crisis and where will we accommodate the intake. This is the argument you always hear against all overseas aid and solidarity of any sort with people living beyond our shores.

In another part of the Irish Government, at our representation on the UN Security Council in New York, efforts are being made to ensure that women and girls are not forgotten in this process. So why are more efforts not being made to ensure that visas are made available to women and girls whose safety is directly threatened by the Taliban because of the work that they did or their activism.

It is also worth remembering that people with refugee status or subsidiary protection in the State have an automatic right to family reunification for certain family members. It will be important to establish how many of these ‘new’ visas will be granted in this category.

Also, for non-EU nationals with permission to remain in the State, there may be an entitlement to family reunification if certain criteria are met. One of the key issues is dependency. This carries with it a high likelihood that the person to be granted a visa was not working in the first place and was dependent on the support of the individual in Ireland.

It is disappointing to see the Irish Government’s approach to the Afghan crisis falling well short of the well-argued advocacy at the Security Council.

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