More than 200 Afghans granted visa waivers to come to Ireland have not yet made it here because of numerous barriers facing people trying to get out of Afghanistan, The Irish Times has learned.
Figures released by the Department of Justice and Department of Children show 499 visa waivers have been issued to people fleeing Afghanistan since the Taliban takeover in August but just 286 have arrived in Ireland to date. Of these, 184 are adults and 102 are children.
An additional 55 Afghan nationals have been granted family reunification permission to come to Ireland since August, bringing to 108 the number granted this type of permission so far this year.
The Government is set to launch its Afghan Admissions Programme in December, which will provide up to 500 places for Afghan family members to come to Ireland. However, hundreds of Afghans who have already been approved to come here are struggling to get the paperwork needed to travel, renew their passports and pay for flights.
Katherine Hall, a development worker who previously worked in Afghanistan but is now based in Kyrgyzstan, is in direct contact with several families who have been granted Irish visas but cannot get out of the country. After these families received confirmation of their Irish visa waiver, "the support pretty much stopped from Ireland", according to Ms Hall.
She says not enough is being done to help these families leave Afghanistan, adding that just the flight from Kabul to Islamabad costs more than $1,000 (€865) per person. "The land border to Pakistan is open but it's very dangerous. These people who got visa waivers are already very high risk from the Taliban."Without Ireland's help these people's chances of survival are limited. Many are in hiding and fear for their lives."
Khatira Samim, an Afghan aid worker specialising in gender and human rights issues, was granted an Irish visa waiver in September after a former Irish colleague applied on her behalf for support. He also secured visas for her husband, two children and mother but they were unable to travel because their passports had expired. The family decided that Ms Samim, who had received threats from the Taliban for “promoting anti-Islamic values”, and had gone into hiding, should travel ahead and they would follow.
Ms Samim made it out of Afghanistan on a UN business flight to Pakistan in late September and flew on to Ireland after her Irish contact paid for her airfare. She has been in Limerick since September 24th working hard to renew her family's passports from afar and find the money to cover their flights.
"The Irish Government never contacted me directly, I didn't receive any support from them," said Ms Samim.
Ms Samim admits she initially considered going back to Afghanistan after hearing her young son cry down the phone. “I eventually told him I’m coming back but he said, ‘no, don’t come. It’s too dangerous for you here.’ That was very painful for me, hearing that.”
Ms Samim’s family are now in Pakistan waiting to fly on to Ireland while she gathers the funds to pay for the journey with the support of friends. “I don’t know how to thank my Irish friends,” she says.
A Department of Children spokeswoman, speaking on behalf of the Irish Refugee Resettlement Programme (IRRP), said the “vast majority” of Afghan arrivals are being housed in emergency reception and orientation centres (usually used for Syrian arrivals). Various non-governmental organisations are also supporting Afghan arrivals and gardaí are conducting interviews with the new arrivals.
“While IRPP remain concerned about Afghans with status letters remaining in Afghanistan it is beyond the remit of this team to facilitate departure,” she said. “DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] have been liaising with neighbouring countries to attempt to expedite departure” while justice officials are “updating status letters where required”.