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Taliban takeover Campaigners call for Government to take in greater numbers of Afghan refugees than pledged

Women will be prioritised, as well as members of the LGBT community, those working on the frontline and human rights defenders

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Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul. Picture: Getty

Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul. Picture: Getty

Afghan people sit along the tarmac as they wait to leave the Kabul airport in Kabul. Picture: Getty

Refugees from Afghanistan will be housed in Emergency Reception and Orientation centres (EROC), live with friends or family or through local community sponsorship under options being considered by the Government.

It comes after it emerged Afghan refugees coming to Ireland will not have to live in the controversial direct provision system, which is due to be abolished, and as campaigners have urge the Government to take in far more refugees than already promised.

Independent.ie understands that the Government has also been in touch with non-governmental organisations (NGOs) looking to see how much accommodation is available.

There are currently three EROC with a total capacity of 375 places in Ballaghaderreen, Co Roscommon, the Hazel Hotel in Monasterevin, Co Kildare, and Clonea Strand in Dungarvan, Co Waterford.

Up to 195 people will be able to come in to the country from Afghanistan, including 150 refugees and 45 people who will be granted visas and will have their applications assessed on arrival.

Refugees will bypass direct provision as they will have already been granted refugee status under humanitarian grounds by Minister for Children and Equality Roderic O’Gorman.

Women will be prioritised, as well as members of the LGBT community, those working on the frontline and human rights defenders.

They will be brought to Ireland on chartered flights and the Government is seeking help from other EU member states, Minister O’Gorman told RTÉ radio.

Refugees will then have to undergo hotel quarantine upon arrival and be processed through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.

The Department of Foreign Affairs has already identified the people who will be brought into Ireland.

These people will be able to travel with their families.

“We have a number of these orientation centres around the country and they proved very successful, particularly at the moment they’re used in terms of Syrian refugees who are coming from Lebanon, Jordan and indeed Greece as well,” said Minister O’Gorman.

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Meanwhile, campaigners have called for Ireland to take in far more than the number of refugees committed to by the Irish Government.

A group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has written an open letter saying Ireland has capacity for around 1,000 refugees under existing arrangements.

The group of 12 organisations, including Amnesty International, Oxfam, the Irish Refugee Council, and the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, welcomed the initial commitment to grant humanitarian visas to 150 people but stated that a minimum of 1,000 Afghan refugees should be resettled in Ireland.

The Government is set to receive refugees from Afghanistan as the country has been taken over by the Taliban regime and thousands flee to safety.

Speaking in RTÉ’s News At One, Minister for Integration Roderic O’Gorman said that those 150 people could be joined by their families. Once they have gone through hotel quarantine they would be resettled, and not have to go through the direct provision system.

He said that the Government had drawn up the list of the people in Afghanistan who would be receiving the Irish visas.

"We have identified these individuals,” he said.

"The situation is incredibly fluid, but the fact the airport has opened today is a welcome development.

"This is an initial reaction to the crisis that has developed in the last number of weeks and should be seen as such," he said.

"We, Ireland and all other EU and developed countries, are going to have look very closely at the situation and be prepared to step up and make provision if there is a wider departure of Afghan citizens from the country.”

The letter recommends that the Irish Government use the unfilled resettlement places from 2020 and 2021 to resettle Afghan refugees and to fast-track family reunion applications.

Speaking on behalf of the signatories, chief executive of the Irish Refugee Council Nick Henderson said: “We believe, through membership of the [UN] 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.

“Ireland can use its existing resettlement programme to resettle Afghan refugees. According to UNHCR there are currently 96,000 Afghan people in neighbouring countries in need of protection. There are at least 1,100 unfilled resettlement places from 2020 and 2021. We are recommending that at least 1,000 Afghan refugees are resettled.”

“We can also expedite applications from Afghan people in Ireland and provide them international protection. There are currently around 211 Afghan people living in Direct Provision,” he said.

Mr Henderson said approximately 97 Afghan people were refused leave to land in Ireland between January 2020 and May 31, 2021.

Minister O’Gorman will issue refugee status on a humanitarian basis to individuals chosen by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

This means that they will not have to go into direct provision, a system which Minister O’Gorman is seeking to abolish.

The refugees will be brought to Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, a spokesperson for the Minister confirmed.

The Department of Justice has also confirmed that any planned deportations of Afghan people will not take place.

Labour Senator Annie Hoey said Ireland must act as an international leader in welcoming as many Afghan refugees as possible into the country.

“We are all horrified by the scenes we are watching unfold in Afghanistan over the past number of days. While it may be easy to feel powerless in situations like this, I am calling on the Government to step up to the mark and help these fleeing Afghan people,” she said.

“We must show complete solidarity with our fellow citizens whose lives have been turned upside down almost overnight. We must show leadership in front of our other European neighbours.”

Senator Hoey reiterated the fact that it is a very urgent situation, she said: “We are witnessing this mass exodus and movement of people who are fleeing the Taliban. We must take a compassionate approach and the Labour Party is calling on Government to ensure that any and all applications of Afghan people are considered speedily.”

She said Ireland has the power to intervene in a meaningful way to help the many innocent people who are now fleeing the country.

Sinn Féin TD Eoin Ó Broin said Ireland should take in an “appropriate” number of refugees from the country over the coming weeks and months.

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

"The exact number I think that has to be negotiated."

Mr O Broin said that the Irish Government needs to use its leverage, as a member of the UN Security Council, to ensure that the UN works to avert a "humanitarian catastrophe".

He was highly critical of the Biden administration's decision to withdrawn from Afghanistan.

"The idea that you can just withdraw without a plan and leave ordinary Afghan men women and children at the mercy of the Taliban.

"I think that speaks volumes, but am I surprised that that's American foreign policy?

"No I'm not.

"Now is the time for the UN to intervene."

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One, Junior Minister for Law Reform James Browne said the Government will allocate 150 humanitarian visas for Afghans who want to leave the country, on top of 45 visas already approved under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme over recent days recent days.

He said another 103 Afghan family members of Irish citizens and Afghan nationals living in Ireland, who have applied for family reunification are being fast-tracked

“There is no upper limit, 103 Afghan family members have applied to rejoin families,” he added.

When asked if these refugees will be exempt from direct provision, Minister Browne said: “It depends on how they arrive here they will be assessed depending on the situation in which they arrive. If you are coming here as a refugee with refugee status, then you won’t be in direct provision.”

The Minister said the Government is working with the United Nations, the Red Cross and any other international organization who are working on the ground in neighbouring countries.

Mr Browne said it would not be necessary to scale back the Syrian programme in order to accommodate Afghan refugees, he said: “It’s a humanitarian crisis so there is no issue for anyone else coming from a difficult situation to be affected.”

He confirmed that anyone with an outstanding deportation order will not be deported back to Afghanistan while the Taliban is in charge of the country.

“There are a number of outstanding deportations orders since Covid-19 started and there is no question of deporting anyone back to Afghanistan. Anyone with a deportation order can apply to have a change of status,” he added.

The Minister said that once the refugees arrive in Ireland resources will be made available to them, he said: “Absolutely the resources will be put behind these families - it’s an exceptional set of circumstances and a humanitarian crisis. We did it with the Syrians when they came to Wexford there are challenges, but we will certainly provide places for them.”

“We have an awful lot of experience from the Syrian situation and the playbook is there,” he said.

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