Irish organisations working with migrant, asylum and refugee rights are calling on the Government to make Ireland a leader in the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Afghanistan.
Twelve organisations have written to the Government welcoming the commitment to offer 150 Afghan citizens safe harbour in Ireland, plus commitments to prioritise family reunification.
"We are also ready to support this process in any way we can," the letter says.
The group also call for Ireland to commit to the resettlement of at least 1,000 Afghan refugees fleeing their country.
They also ask that the Government:
- Use the unfilled resettlement places from 2020 and 2021 to resettle Afghan refugees
- Increase the number of humanitarian admission visas given to people at risk of persecution in Afghanistan
- Ensure international protection is provided to Afghan protection applicants currently in Ireland through an expedited process
- Fast track family reunion applications and broaden criteria
- Ensure Afghan people have access to the international protection process in Ireland
Speaking on behalf of the signatories of the letter, Nick Henderson, CEO of the Irish Refugee Council says the group believes Ireland can continue to show strong humanitarian leadership, but commitments need to be back up by concrete actions, domestically and internationally.
“Ireland can use its existing resettlement programme to resettle Afghan refugees," he said.
"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."
The groups are the Irish Refugee Council, Movement of Asylum Seekers Ireland, Doras, the Immigrant Council of Ireland, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties, Nasc, Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre, Cultúr Migrants Centre, Places of Sanctuary Ireland, the Migrant Rights Centre Ireland, the Clare Immigrant Support Centre, Amnesty International, Oxfam Ireland.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland has welcomed the Government's decision to approve up to 150 visa applicants from Afghanistan.
Brian Killoran, chief executive of the ICI says the decision is "really welcome" as they have a number of Afghan clients who have been waiting to be joined by family members for a number of months.
Mr Killoran told RTÉ's Morning Ireland that the "the stress of the last 48 hours" has made the wait "so much more intense" for them.
"From our perspective in Ireland, what we can do first of all is put the wheels in motion as regards giving people permission to come", he Killoran said.
"Putting the resources behind the response, and then the logistics will have to be figured out as time goes on".
Mr Killoran also said he believed there is "strong public opinion" about Ireland playing its part in supporting humanitarian efforts.
"Public opinion is behind Ireland and doing something," he said.
"We have done things in the past like humanitarian access programs, whereby family members in Ireland could apply for the family to come and join them here, those needs to be restarted."
According to the 2016 census, there are fewer than 2,000 Afghan people in Ireland, but Mr Killoran says "some of them are well established they've been here a number of years".
He added: "I think it's about the wider community around them then coming around, and providing that support.
"From what the government has said yesterday, they will be, you know, looking to the public and looking to the civil society sector to support it.
"This is a humanitarian situation and needs a humanitarian response."
A crisis meeting of European foreign ministers will take place later to form a response to an unfolding humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
The UN says it has received "chilling reports" of human rights violations, since the Taliban takeover.
Irish MEP Frances Fitzgerald says there needs to be a particular focus on the plight of women and girls in the country.
"The young girls and women are in a very vulnerable position given the Taliban's attitude to women, to education, to women's rights, to equality, she said.
"We know that many, many women are at risk right now, and the international community has to reach out and take every action they possibly can to stress the importance of the safety of the Afghan citizens."
On Monday, an Irish woman currently in Kabul said she is hoping she will be able to leave and return home in the next 48 hours.
Aoife MacManus, from Ashbourne in Meath, has been in the Afghan city for two years working in the primary education sector. She is one of the small number of Irish citizens still in Afghanistan and trying to flee from the Taliban.
“There is a sense of panic and fear all over the city,” Ms MacManus told the PA news agency.
“This last 24 hours has been so crazy, I don’t know how many places I’ve been.”
Things are “chaotic” across the city, she said.
Up to 150 humanitarian visas are being made available by the Government for Afghans, under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.
The visas will mean refugees will not have to enter the direct provision system upon arriving here.
These 150 are in addition to 45 visas that were approved in recent days.
Ms Fitzgerald added that the number is likely to be reassessed and will increase with time.
"I'm sure that's a first response but I think we need to be to relook at family unit reunification look at the Afghans who were here already, who have put in, probably many months ago for family reunification.
"We need to take a fresh look at that and I have no doubt that numbers will need to be increased."
Senior Taliban leader Amir Khan Muttaqi is said to be in Afghanistan’s capital negotiating with Kabul’s political leadership.
Those involved in the talks include Abdullah Abdullah, who once headed the country’s negotiating council, and former President Hamid Karzai.
That is according to an official familiar with the talks and who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media..
Mr Muttaqi was a higher education minister when the Taliban last ruled and he began making contacts with Afghan political leaders even before Afghan President Ashraf Ghani secretly slipped away from the Presidential Palace on the weekend.
The president’s departure left a devastating vacuum that Taliban who were surrounding the city strode in to fill.
The official says the talks underway in the Afghan capital are aimed at bringing other non-Taliban leaders into the government that Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen has said will be an “inclusive Afghan government.”
There is little indication about the substance of the talks, but Mr Shaheen earlier told The Associated Press that a government will be announced after negotiations with non-Taliban leaders are completed.
Afghans familiar with the talks say some rounds have gone late into the night and have been underway since soon after Mr Ghani’s departure.
President Joe Biden said he stands “squarely behind” his decision to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, and that the government’s collapse was quicker than anticipated.
Mr Biden said he was faced with a choice between sticking to a previously negotiated agreement to withdraw US troops this year or sending thousands more service members back into Afghanistan for a “third decade” of war.
Mr Biden said he will not repeat mistakes of the past and did not regret his decision to proceed with the withdrawal.
“I stand squarely behind my decision,” Mr Biden said in a televised address to the nation from the White House East Room.
“After 20 years, I’ve learned the hard way that there was never a good time to withdraw US forces.”
Mr Biden said he would rather take the criticism over the fallout in Afghanistan than leave the decision to another president.
He said the decision to leave Afghanistan is “the right one for America.”