TWO Irish-based Afghan teens have been successfully repatriated after the brother and sister were trapped in the war-torn country three months ago when the Taliban toppled the Government.
The 18-year-old girl and her 16-year-old brother are now safely back at their Irish address after they were stranded in Afghanistan and unable to fly home from Kabul - with the repatriation achieved thanks to a complex operation by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Fears for their safety had mounted as Irish friends lost contact with the pair over three months ago.
The girl and her brother had travelled to Afghanistan five months ago to visit extended family following the illness of a close relative.
She had completed her Leaving Cert last summer at a secondary school in the south - while her brother had been about to start his two year Leaving Cert programme.
Classmates and teachers were deeply worried about when they did not return to Ireland for the new school year and they were unable to obtain information on their whereabouts.
Their visit to Afghanistan last June was organised because a family member was dying.
They were due to fly back to Ireland in September but had desperately tried to get home in August when the Taliban overran the country.
Because their relatives live in the countryside some distance from Kabul, they were unable to participate in the initial wave of repatriations.
It is understood their family are from a rural part of Afghanistan which has seen clashes between the new Government and anti-Taliban groups.
Some areas have witnessed violence on tribal lines.
Fears for the teens safety had mounted since August given the total lack of information about their whereabouts.
One member of the teen's immediate family was murdered by the Taliban several years ago.
It is understood the pair were able to make contact with the Department of Foreign Affairs and were eventually able to reach Kabul where they stayed in a safe house.
On October 26, the pair travelled to Kabul Airport and Irish diplomats working with their EU colleagues were able to secure a flight for them to Ireland via Doha in Qatar.
A total of 12 people - including the teens and several other Irish-based Afghans - were able to board the flight on the evening of October 26 and finally reached Ireland on October 28.
Both teens then made contact with their relieved Irish friends and teachers at the Irish secondary school they had attended.
A number of Irish-based Afghans have also resorted to overland trips because of problems at Kabul Airport.
Those overland trips will shortly become impossible as the Afghan winter sets in and mountainous roads are left impassable.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and Irish diplomats have worked round-the-clock to get Irish citizens and residents safely out of Afghanistan.
Mr Coveney insisted Ireland is doing everything possible to assist those who want to leave Afghanistan.
To date, Ireland has helped to get more than 100 Irish citizens and dependents out of the country since the Taliban seized control last August.
Last month, 25 people flew from Kabul to Doha in Qatar on a specially organised flight.
Irish citizens have also been repatriated thanks to the US, Swedish, German and French Governments.
“We remain aware and in contact with other citizens who still want to leave Afghanistan and our work with key partners will continue to achieve this," Mr Coveney said.
"Ireland is also committed to its international obligations to help vulnerable Afghan refugees and groups of people in that category continue to arrive or be in transit.”
The Government has also signalled that it will likely accept far more than the 200 refugees initially indicated from Afghanistan - with the focus being on human rights workers, vulnerable women and interpreters.
While Ireland has assisted more than 100 citizens and dependents to flee Afghanistan, a number of others are trying to get back to Ireland via overland routes through Tajikistan and Pakistan.
Ireland deployed members of the elite Army Ranger Wing to Kabul Airport in August in an evacuation mission assisted by the US, Danish and Finnish authorities.
Despite this, a number of Irish-based Afghan citizens remain trapped in the war-torn country.
Irish officials remain in close contact with those still stranded and have promised that their support for Irish citizens and residents in Afghanistan will be “unstinting”.
Irish repatriation efforts are being led by Minister Coveney and Department of Foreign Affairs teams in Abu Dhabi and Dublin.
“The Department will continue its focus on providing consular assistance and support for those citizens and dependants who require it in the period ahead," a spokesperson said.
“The precise number of Irish citizens and their immediate family members requiring ongoing Irish consular assistance in Afghanistan is fluid."