153. Deputy Richard Bruton asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider the recommendations of an organisation (details supplied) in respect of the new programme for families in Afghanistan in order that the lessons from previous experiences can be applied. [50341/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy James Browne): I am very conscious of the plight faced by the Afghan people following the collapse of the former Afghan government and the takeover by the Taliban, that has further fuelled the humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Ireland's national response to the current crisis includes opening the Irish Refugee Protection Programme (IRPP) under Minister O'Gorman's remit to Afghan persons in need of protection and working to ensure that applications received by Afghan nationals under the various State schemes for immigration residence and international protection can be prioritised for speedier processing where possible. These schemes provide avenues for Afghan nationals to seek protection and for eligible family members living in Ireland to seek to have their close family members granted permission to reside in Ireland, where the relevant criteria are met. More than 670 Afghan nationals have already been granted permissions to reside in the State so far this year.
The Government has approved an additional initiative: the special Afghan Admission Programme. The Programme will allow places for up to 500 Afghan family members and each applicant will have an opportunity to nominate up to four family members who are currently residing in Afghanistan or who have fled to neighbouring territories and whom they consider would be especially at risk in terms of their freedom and safety.
The Programme is guided by the previous Syrian Humanitarian Assistance Programme (SHAP) which also provided for the nomination of a limited number of close family members and by the IRPP Humanitarian Assistance Programme (IHAP), which included Afghan nationals.
The Programme, including the detailed eligibility criteria and the application process, will be developed over the coming months, with a view to issuing a call for applications in December. The timescale provided is to ensure that the options considered are as inclusive as possible and that the programme is available to those that most require our help. The intervening time is required to develop the details of the programme, including a guidance document for applicants, application form, decision making criteria and the appeals process. The clearer the application process is made at the outset, the quicker we will be able to process applications in the interests of those concerned.
I believe that these initiatives meet the call from interested NGOs and civil society organisations on the Government to lead in its response to this crisis. The Afghan Admission Programme is unique across the EU and was hailed by UNHCR as a very welcome commitment by the Government that will bring much solace to Afghans who are worried about their relatives abroad.