TWO Afghan teenagers based in Ireland have been successfully repatriated after the brother and sister were trapped in the war-torn country three months ago when the Taliban overthrew the government.
the 18-year-old girl and her 16-year-old brother are now safely back at their Irish address after being stranded in Afghanistan and unable to return home from Kabul – with repatriation achieved thanks to a complex operation led by the ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Fears for their safety had grown as Irish friends lost contact with the couple more than three months ago.
The girl and her brother had traveled to Afghanistan five months ago to visit their extended family following the illness of a close relative.
She had completed her Leaving Cert last summer at a southern high school – just as her brother was about to start his two-year Leaving Cert program.
Classmates and teachers were deeply concerned that they would not return to Ireland for the new school year and were unable to obtain information on their plight.
Their visit to Afghanistan last June was organized because a family member was dying.
They were due to return to Ireland in September, but had desperately tried to return home in August when the Taliban invaded the country.
Because their relatives live in the countryside some distance from Kabul, they were unable to participate in the first wave of repatriations.
Their family is understood to be from a rural area of Afghanistan which has seen clashes between the new government and anti-Taliban groups.
Some areas have witnessed violence on the tribal lines.
Fears for the safety of the teenagers had increased since August given the complete lack of information on their fate.
A member of the teenager’s immediate family was murdered by the Taliban several years ago.
It is understood that the two men were able to make contact with the Foreign Ministry and were eventually able to reach Kabul where they stayed in a safe house.
On October 26, the couple traveled to Kabul airport and Irish diplomats working with their EU colleagues were able to book a flight for them to Ireland via Doha in Qatar.
A total of 12 people – including the teenagers and several other Afghans based in Ireland – were able to board the flight on the evening of October 26 and finally reached Ireland on October 28.
The two teenagers then made contact with their relieved Irish friends and teachers at the Irish secondary school they had attended.
A number of Afghans based in Ireland have also resorted to overland travel due to problems at Kabul airport.
These overland trips will soon become impossible as the Afghan winter sets in and mountainous roads remain impassable.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and Irish diplomats worked around the clock to safely remove Irish citizens and residents from Afghanistan.
Mr Coveney insisted that Ireland is doing everything possible to help those who want to leave Afghanistan.
To date, Ireland has helped remove more than 100 Irish citizens and dependents from the country since the Taliban took control last August.
Last month, 25 people flew from Kabul to Doha in Qatar on a specially organized flight.
Irish citizens have also been repatriated thanks to the governments of the United States, Sweden, Germany and France.
“We remain aware of and in touch with other citizens who still wish to leave Afghanistan and our work with key partners will continue to do so,” Coveney said.
“Ireland is also committed to meeting its international obligations to help vulnerable Afghan refugees and such groups of people continue to arrive or be in transit.
The government has also indicated that it will likely accept far more than the 200 refugees initially listed from Afghanistan – with a focus on human rights defenders, vulnerable women and interpreters.
While Ireland has helped more than 100 citizens and dependents flee Afghanistan, a number of others are attempting to return to Ireland by overland routes through Tajikistan and Pakistan.
Ireland deployed members of the elite Army Ranger squadron to Kabul airport in August as part of an evacuation mission assisted by US, Danish and Finnish authorities.
Despite this, a number of Afghan citizens based in Ireland remain trapped in the war-torn country.
Irish officials remain in close contact with those still stranded and have promised their support for Irish citizens and residents in Afghanistan will be “unwavering”.
Irish repatriation efforts are led by Minister Coveney and the Foreign Office teams in Abu Dhabi and Dublin.
“The ministry will continue to focus on providing consular assistance and support to citizens and dependents who need it in the coming period,” a spokesperson said.
“The precise number of Irish citizens and their immediate family members requiring continued Irish consular assistance in Afghanistan is fluid.”