Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government would like to take more than the 200 Afghan refugees that it has agreed to accept but cautioned that any increase must be done in a way which ensures that they are properly looked after.
Mr Coveney said the numbers who feel vulnerable in Afghanistan following its fall to the Taliban was running into millions and while the numbers of refugees Ireland is taking is only a fraction of that, it was important that Ireland as a UN Security Council member was seen to be doing its utmost.
“There are millions of people in Afghanistan who feel vulnerable today ....Half of its population are women, many of whom have been educated and have been growing up for the past 20 years in a country that was changing for the better in terms of rights and aspirations for democracy.
“Literally millions of them are wondering what the future holds for them and their daughters and whether it is 150 or 250 or 500 or 1,000 refugees in Ireland it is still only going to be the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“There are some people more vulnerable than others – people who would have worked with NATO, or the EU, US or certain NGOs obviously advocating for women’s rights and so on and in some cases journalists too, people who feel they are vulnerable to a Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.”
Mr Coveney stressed that any Afghan qualifying for refugee status in Ireland would bypass the Direct Provision system on arrival but it was important that there are proper structures in place to accommodate them.
“There are ways in which capacity can increase, for example, there is a structure as part of the Refugee Settlement Programme that if people want to accommodate a refugee in their home with their families, they can do that,” he said.
"If families want to contact the Irish Refugee Council (IRC), they can make space available. But the State has the primary responsibility here in terms of ensuring that anybody whom we bring to Ireland as a refugee is properly looked after.
"That is why we have so far announced a relatively small number of people, effectively 200. There are 45 so far who have been working with EU institutions in Kabul. They have been given waivers to come to Ireland and then, on top of that, another 150 we hope to bring to Ireland
“Unfortunately, some of them cannot get out of Afghanistan yet but when they do they will be able to come here. But we may go beyond that – we just want to do that in a structure and planned way, otherwise, you and others will be asking how they are to be accommodated,” he told reporters.
Speaking in Cork where he launched the 32nd Cork French Film Festival, Mr Coveney also expressed optimism that Ireland would succeed in assisting Irish citizens still in Kabul to leave within the next few days following the fall of the capital to the Taliban earlier this week.
“We managed to get three more Irish citizens out last night [Thursday] – so that is six out now in total. There are 35 Irish citizens including dependents that still need to get out and we are working with our partners to do that.
“We managed to work with a German plane that was leaving last night to get three Irish citizens on it but of course we are working with our French, British and German counterparts as well – that is ongoing [but] it’s not easy to get people out of Kabul right now.
“There is the airport itself and obviously securing places on planes but actually getting into the airport from outside of that cordoned-off area is not easy – there are big crowds there and so getting though the sort of military managed security fence is not straightforward.
"We're looking at ways we can make it easier for Irish citizens to get into the airport complex ... we are keeping in close contact with them through our embassy in Abu Dhabi who are doing a fantastic job but we are also speaking directly to others in the airport who are responsible for security there."
Mr Coveney said that most Irish citizens who are in Afghanistan are working for NGOs or international organizations and many of them have dependents with them and while some are dual nationals with both Irish and Afghan citizenship, Ireland will work to protect them all.
“For duals nationals that may look like they are Afghan, it’s in some ways more difficult for them to get past the security checks on the way to the airport but we have a responsibility to all Irish citizens, dual citizens or otherwise – our job is to protect them and get them home as soon as we can.
“It will take a few more days in my view but I think it would be naive of me to give specific deadlines. We will do it as quickly as we can and as safely as we can and we have lots of partners who we are working with – all of whom are being helpful.”