Joint letter: Humanitarian crisis in Afghanistan
On August 27th, Nasc, Crosscare Migrant Project, Doras and Irish Refugee Council wrote to Minister for Justice, Heather Humphries to ask for the urgent introduction of a Humanitarian Admission Programme and provision to be made for exemptions to normal processing requirements for visa applications from Afghan nationals seeking to join their family members in Ireland.
Ms Heather Humphries, Minister for Justice and Equality
Department of Justice
51 St. Stephen's Green
27 August 2021
We are a group of organisations working with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in Ireland. Over the past two weeks, our services have all been supporting Afghan nationals and Irish nationals of Afghan background who are desperately trying to secure Irish visas and safe passage for their family members from Afghanistan and those who have fled to neighbouring countries such as Pakistan and Iran. We welcome your comments of the 25th August as reported here that you are examining whether the system to reunite Afghan citizens with their family members can be broadened. Our organisations have two clear proposals to do so: the creation of a new admission programme and a more flexible and broad visa application process.
New Irish Humanitarian Admission Programme
Our organisations are united in asking you and your Department to create a new Irish Humanitarian Admission Programme (IHAP). In light of the limitations of existing mechanisms such as ‘D’ visa applications and family reunification under section 56 of the International Protection Act 2015, a dedicated scheme such as a Humanitarian Admission Programme which would include extended family members is necessary.
On 25 August UNHCR Ireland reiterated its call on the government to expand family reunification opportunities for refugees and urged it, as a short-term measure, to consider reopening the International Refugee Protection Programme Humanitarian Admission Programme (IHAP) to new applicants.
However, we recognise that this programme may take some time to establish. In the interim, given the unprecedented level of urgency for families in Afghanistan, and surrounding territories, we urge you and your Department to take immediate steps to facilitate speedy access to the visa process for Afghans with family links in Ireland.
More flexible and broad visa process:
We appreciate that the Department of Justice has issued an Immigration notice on the unfolding situation in Afghanistan on your website however this notice does not address many of the questions and concerns that Afghan residents or the organisations or practitioners supporting them have. We welcome the Department’s prioritisation of applications submitted before the humanitarian crisis unfolded. However, the family members of many naturalised Irish citizens and long-term Irish residents are now at significant risk from the Taliban, and they need the support of their families in safety in Ireland. We expect to submit pre-clearance and ‘D’ visa applications over the coming weeks predominantly for immediate family members and for parents of Afghan nationals resident in Ireland and Afghan-Irish citizens.
It is important that these families are also given an opportunity to apply for and secure visas. As such we have four practical suggestions that we urge the Department of Justice to publicly implement immediately. These are:
- Establish an online visa application process, whereby documents are uploaded to a secure portal, or until such a process is established, by email to the Visa office in Dublin. There is a huge risk for families in attempting to send identity documents to embassies abroad, and increasingly international couriers refuse to accept passports, travel documents or identity documents. If there is a requirement to submit documents physically, these should be submitted to and processed in the Dublin visa office. The submission of visa applications through the Dublin office is done as standard for refugee family reunification visa applications so this is not unprecedented.
- Recognise the limited access to original identity and other documentation available to Afghans. We are suggesting that where the applicant has electronic copies of documents available, these should be accepted for the purposes of visa processing. The Visa Office could impose conditions, such as the requirement to present a valid travel document if the visa is granted in principle. This would facilitate the issue of laissez-passers, international travel documents such as a Red Cross Travel Documents or Irish Travel Documents.
- In recognition of the current exceptional humanitarian circumstances, apply para 1.12 of the Policy Document on non-EEA Family Reunification which provides for the waiving of normal visa criteria, including financial and relationship criteria.
- Waive visa fees for citizens of Afghanistan.
Our organisations remain committed to working with you and your Department to support Afghan nationals in Ireland and to ensuring that visa applications are made in an orderly manner.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Fiona Finn, CEO Nasc Migrant and Refugee Rights Centre
Richard King, Project Lead, Crosscare Migrant Project
John Lannon, CEO Doras
Nick Henderson, CEO, Irish Refugee Council
CC: opposition immigration spokespersons