The Government has been urged to expand the country’s refugee programme to allow more Afghan human rights workers into Ireland.
A meeting of the Oireachtas Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee heard on Tuesday the dangers facing human rights workers across the world.
Front Line Defenders, a human rights organisation based in Ireland, told the committee that the situation on the ground in Afghanistan is “dire”.
“The majority of defenders at risk, who worked tirelessly and at great personal risk to promote and protect rights, remain in the country without recourse to help and support,” said Andrew Anderson, the organisation’s executive director.
“The ability of human rights defenders to continue their work safely is extremely limited. Incidents of raids on homes and offices of defenders, arrests and torture, and threats of violence against defenders are increasing at an alarming rate.
“We also know that the reported incidents do not reflect the full scale of attacks.
“Over a month on, we continue our urgent appeals for more visas and safe evacuation options for those seeking to leave.”
Mr Anderson said that he wanted to commend and thank the Government on the “generous commitment” to providing visas through the Irish Refugee Protection Programme.
On Tuesday, the Government said it would provide 500 additional places for Afghan family members.
In contrast, Mr Anderson said he was “disappointed” by the response of the EU.
He said that “in most part” member states have not been helpful in providing visas.
However, he said that the Foreign Affairs Committee must recommend to the Irish Government a further expansion of its refugee programme.
Hassan Ali Faiz, a human rights activist whose family was granted visas by the Irish Government, told the committee he was grateful to the Department of Foreign Affairs for its support.
The Government’s efforts, he said, “actually rekindled faith and belief in the great cause of human rights”.
He said that “despite its limited military and economic involvement in Afghanistan”, Ireland was a “pioneer in harbouring human rights defenders and journalists”.
He warned about the dangers of Taliban rule in the country since the takeover last month.
“Millions of girls who used to go to school are no longer able to pursue their ambitions for the future. Girls’ schools have been closed down. Women who demonstrated for their rights in several cities soon after the fall of the government were brutally silenced,” he said.
“Journalists who covered the protests were detained and subjected to horrific torture.”
The human rights organisation is also calling on the Government to use its seat on the UN Security Council to help stop the killing of human rights activists in Colombia.
It said that it had verified the killing of 199 human rights activists in 2020.
“Ireland, as a long-standing supporter of the Colombian peace process, including but by no means limited to the role played by former minister Eamon Gilmore as the EU’s Special Representative to the Colombian Peace Process, is in a unique position to address this issue,” said Michelle Foley, from Frontline Defenders.
“It is opportune and timely for Ireland to champion peacebuilding, human rights and security in Colombia as a key priority area for the Security Council.”
Committee chairman Fine Gael TD Charlie Flanagan said reports of killings in Colombia were “shocking” and suggested that the committee may decide to invite the Colombian Ambassador to Ireland before the committee.