Three questions about Ireland’s plan to take 200 Afghan refugees

The ordinary people of Afghanistan – at least, many ordinary women and children in Afghanistan – are the victims of one of the worst calamities imaginable. There’s a lot of talk in the west these days about “oppression” – but the truth is, we don’t know the meaning of the word. The women of Afghanistan, who are about to be denied an education, denied the right to leave their homes unaccompanied by a man, and denied the right to wear anything that isn’t a full body covering, are about to suffer real repression. And not just women – many tens of thousands of Afghan men may be targeted in the coming months and years for torture, mutilation, and execution, for the crime of having been on the wrong side of the American-instigated civil war.

In the face of this disaster on the other side of the globe, Simon Coveney has pledged – without any debate or discussion with the public – to accommodate almost 200 Afghan refugees. 150 people will be granted humanitarian visas, in addition to 45 people who have already had such visas approved in recent days. Humanitarian NGOs are demanding that he quintuple that number, and that Ireland accepts 1,000 Afghan refugees.

Readers, and many ordinary Irish people, will have real concerns about this. Those concerns should be articulated, not dismissed. As ever, though, in Ireland, this decision has been taken without any concern whatsoever for the views of anybody who might dissent, being, as it is, easier simply to dismiss them as heartless people of suspect motive.

To be clear: Afghans who wish to flee their country are not the enemy. There are very few Irish people who, faced with a similar situation, would not also wish to flee. If the word “refugee” has any meaning at all, then the Afghans surely qualify for it. Certainly, there is barely any comparison between an Afghan fleeing the Taliban, and a Moldovan fleeing racism against the Romani people in that country. There are good reasons to suspect (in fact, the fact that many applications are rejected confirms it) that not all asylum seekers are genuine, and that many may be economic migrants. It is hard to argue that about the Afghanis, though: Very few of these people have ever sought to leave their country prior to this week.

But nobody has a right to come to Ireland, and live here, however desperate their situation. Irish people have a right to be concerned about this decision, and seek answers to their questions.

Question one, for example, would be this: Given that the Taliban’s greatest impact will be on women, and children, it makes sense that Ireland would be prioritising women, and children. Are we? And if not, why not? Adult males (with the exception of those with specific reasons to be fearful, like ex-US Army employees) will suffer many fewer restrictions on their rights under the Taliban than Afghan women. While one would not begrudge them a desire to leave, questions will have to be asked if Ireland ends up accepting a majority of adult males.

Question two would be this: Will these Afghanis be in addition to the migrants we accept in a calendar year, or will their arrival mean that we admit 200 fewer migrants from the rest of the world? To our friends on the left, that question will sound exceedingly heartless, but it is not. It is not at all unreasonable to prioritise those most in need. We do this all the time: It is why our welfare system is riddled with means tests, and why people with children climb the housing lists ahead of those without. Ireland has a limited amount of resources. We cannot cater for an unlimited number of people, so, it is not unreasonable to expect that 200 Afghan women and children would take the place of 200 or so people who have been awaiting deportation for a period of time.

Question three: What screening process will be in place? Afghanistan has been a hotbed of conflict, and extremist Islam, for decades now. It would be exceedingly naïve not to think that the Taliban, and other extremist groups, will see a western refugee programme as an ideal mechanism to extirpate some of their activists from Afghanistan, and bed them into western countries around the world. Who will be vetting the refugees coming to Ireland? Will it be Irish people? Will it be the Americans? Will it happen, at all?

My own view, for the record, is that Simon Coveney’s instincts here are correct: If we can save some small number of people from the Taliban, then we should. But good intentions are not enough, and this is far too important a matter on which to simply trust the Government to hand out 145 Visas. Yes, acting quickly is important, but not at the expense of knowing what the objectives are, who we intend to bring here, how we intend to accommodate them, and building public trust and acceptance for the policy.

The public should not be afraid to demand those answers.

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