188. Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill asked the Minister for Justice the status of the establishment of the Afghan admissions programme; the expected opening date for applications; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [57023/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): I share the Deputy’s concerns for the Afghan people and the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan.
Ireland has acted swiftly and compassionately to demonstrate our support and solidarity with the Afghan people. My Department continues to work closely with colleagues in the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth to ensure a coordinated national response.
As the Deputy is aware, the Government has approved my Department's proposal for an additional initiative: the special Afghan Admission Programme, which will provide places for up to 500 Afghan family members to travel to Ireland. 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, including the detailed eligibility criteria and the application process, is currently being finalised by my Department, with a view to opening for applications in the coming weeks.
Our objective is to ensure that the options considered are as inclusive as possible and that the Programme is available to those who most require our help. The clearer the application process is made at the outset, the quicker my Department will be able to process applications which will be in the best interests of those concerned.
The creation of this Programme is unique to date in the EU and was welcomed by the UNHCR as a very welcome commitment by Ireland that will bring much needed solace to Afghans here who are worried about their relatives abroad.
In the meantime, I want to assure the Deputy that all current immigration avenues remain open for new applications, including visa and family reunification applications. More than 750 Afghan nationals have already been granted permissions to reside in the State so far this year. My Department will process any new applications received speedily and sympathetically.