The Government is sending military special forces to Afghanistan to help facilitate the evacuation of remaining Irish citizens.
A small group of Army Rangers and two Department of Foreign Affairs officials are leaving tonight and will be travelling through Paris. The group is expected to arrive in Kabul late on Tuesday evening.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney met officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Department of Defence, and senior members of the Defence Forces at Baldonnel Airport this evening.
Mr Coveney briefed the Taoiseach on the mission of the Emergency Consular Assistance Team (ECAT).
Just met senior officials & DF. I'll tonight approve the sending of a small team of diplomats, supported by Army Rangers, to Kabul Airport. They’ll work with our int partners on the ground to assist in evacuation of remaining Irish citizens. @dfa @IRLDeptDefence @defenceforces— Simon Coveney (@simoncoveney) August 23, 2021
In a statement released this evening, Mr Coveney said: "Good progress has been made to date in evacuating Irish citizens from Afghanistan. My view is that further progress requires a short deployment of a consular team to HKIA (Hamid Karzai International Airport).
"The security situation for citizens attempting to access to airport remains extremely volatile. Citizens should continue to follow the consular advice given to them directly by our embassy in Abu Dhabi."
A spokesperson said that it would be a "short concentrated mission" and the focus is to support Irish passport-holders and their dependants to access flights leaving Kabul Airport.
The spokesperson also confirmed that the team will not be travelling beyond Kabul Airport.
First group of Afghan refugees arrives in Ireland
Meanwhile, several Afghan refugees arrived in Ireland this evening, the first to do so since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan.
The small number of Afghans, fewer than ten, who had been working for EU institutions in the country were due to land in Ireland at around 6pm.
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has confirmed it has committed to bringing around 230 Afghan refugees to Ireland under the Irish Refugee Protection Programme, since the Taliban came to power.
This is up from its commitment to take 150 refugee last week.
Government ministers have indicated that more humanitarian visas are likely to be issued in the coming weeks.
The Department of Justice is also fast-tracking the applications of 103 Afghans seeking to be reunited with family in Ireland.
Minister Roderic O'Gorman said that most of the Afghan refugees that Ireland has pledged to take are still in Afghanistan.
"We are working as hard as we can to bring as many over as quickly as possible," Mr O'Gorman said.
He said they include people who were working with NGOs and EU governments, as well as human rights defenders, journalists and people deemed particularly vulnerable.
The minister confirmed that they will first go into quarantine before being moved to Emergency Reception and Orientation Centres (EROC).
To house these families, Mr O'Gorman said they would be "relying ... in the first instance" on a community sponsorship programme for refugees which he said was operating for the last number of years.
"We have a number of offers from communities across the country," Mr O'Gorman said.
The Minister said he was looking to see "if there is additional capacity" to accept more refugees.
"Where we find additional capacity and where we are able to bring people over from Afghanistan we will issue additional humanitarian visas," Mr O'Gorman said.
More Irish citizens evacuated
Earlier this afternoon, the Department of Foreign Affairs said that two more Irish citizens have been helped to leave Afghanistan, bringing the total number evacuated so far to ten.
In a statement, it said that 36 Irish citizens and family members are currently seeking to leave the country, and the department remains in close contact.
"The situation remains volatile and access to the airport continues to be a problem," it said.
"Work continues on options for evacuation, the department is in ongoing contact with EU and other partners on the ground in Kabul."
There are also a small number of Irish citizens working for the United Nations and other international organisations in Afghanistan who currently plan to stay in the country.
Additional reporting: Laura Fletcher