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A program to allow Afghan citizens in Ireland to apply for temporary residence for certain family members trying to escape the Taliban will open this week.
The Department of Justice confirmed the Afghan Admissions Programme will begin accepting applications from Thursday.
The closing date for applications will be eight weeks later on 10 February 2022.
There will be 500 places available under the scheme, which was announced in September.
Under the scheme, Afghan nationals living here legally before 1 September 2021 can nominate up to four close family members who are either still in Afghanistan, or in one of five neighbouring countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
According to a statement from the Department of Justice, the scheme is intended to cover spouses, civil partners, de facto partners, minor children and unmarried adult children without dependants.
Others who could also qualify include an applicant’s grandparent, a related minor child without parents or a single vulnerable relative with no one else to support them.
Applicants will also be responsible for covering their nominee’s travel costs and for providing accommodation.
Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said: “In processing applications, we will be prioritising those who are especially vulnerable and whose freedom and safety is most at risk, like older people, children, single female parents, single women and girls and people with disabilities.”
Those whose “previous employment exposes them to greater risk” would also be given priority.
Ms McEntee said that she was “very conscious of the plight faced by the Afghan people following the collapse of the former Afghan government and the takeover by the Taliban”.
“Understandably, it has also been a very worrying time for the Afghan community living in Ireland as they fear for the safety of their family members in Afghanistan or displaced to neighbouring countries,” she added.
Minister of State at the Department of Justice James Browne thanked “the Afghan community in Ireland for their patience” while the department worked to finalize the details of the program.
“Our objective is to ensure that applications can be processed as quickly as possible and the criteria have been developed with this in mind. I look forward to welcoming the first family members to Ireland under the programme in the near future,” he said.
Calls to expand scheme
Irish Refugee Council Chief Executive Nick Henderson said it “strongly welcomed” the announcement but had some concerns.
“Based on the interest in the programme that we and other organisations have received from potential sponsors, we are concerned that 500 is too few places,” he said.
Mr Henderson also called for “the limit of four beneficiaries per household … to be applied flexibly to ensure family unity is maintained”.
Amid concerns about the difficulties people in Afghanistan currently face in accessing travel and identity documents, Mr Henderson also said it would “be necessary to operate the scheme so that successful beneficiaries are issued Irish travel documents even when they do not have a passport available”.
The Immigrant Council of Ireland also welcomed the announcement, citing hundreds of queries to its information services since August from concerned Afghan nationals residing in Ireland.
However, chief executive CEO Brian Killoran called on the Department of Justice “to consider expanding the scheme beyond the proposed 500 places, as well as broadening the eligibility to include family sub-groups such as siblings and extended family – as is the norm within Afghan culture.”
“We are also starting our concerns echoed by other migrant rights groups today at the difficulties for Afghanistan-based individuals to not only access identity documents like passports but also to safely post these documents to Ireland,” Mr. Killoran added.