27 Feb 2014

Govt 'not being loyal' to interpreters

12:33 pm on 27 February 2014

Members of the Defence Force are disgusted with how the Government is treating Afghan interpreters, a journalist who reports on Afghanistan says.

An interpreter in Kabul who worked with New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan says Taliban insurgents tortured him by hanging him from a ceiling and beating him repeatedly for three days before he escaped in December last year.

The man, known as Hamid, said he and his family continue to receive death threats. He wants his application to move to New Zealand to be processed more quickly by immigration officials.

Radio New Zealand's correspondent Jon Stephenson told Checkpoint on Wednesday that past and present members of the Defence Force have echoed that call.

"I think it's fair to say that they are concerned, if not disgusted, by the way in which some of these interpreters are treated. They feel that they have served New Zealand loyally and that that loyalty is not being reciprocated by the Government."

Mr Stephenson claims that the 27-year-old escaped certain execution in December, shortly after applying to come to New Zealand. He says that given the known risk to such people, immigration officials should work urgently on their applications.

Prime Minister John Key said on Wednesday that requests for residency from Afghans who have worked alongside the Defence Force could be fast-tracked if that work has put their lives at risk. Mr Key says each case is assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse defended the amount of time taken to process requests for residency and said it would be inappropriate to discuss an individual case. But in a statement, his office said because such requests come from a nation with active terrorist groups, it is crucial that all necessary security checks are done on applicants.

Mr Stephenson said Hamid served alongside the Defence Force from 2006 until the middle of last year and was employed to translate media conferences.

The correspondent said a New Zealand Army captain wrote a letter to Immigration New Zealand in December supporting Hamid's request for citizenship and urging it be quickly processed. Two weeks later, Hamid was abducted and tortured.

Mr Stephenson said Hamid now fears for his life in Kabul and desperately wants to live in New Zealand. The interpreter applied to go there in late November.

Mr Woodhouse's office said all such applications take about three months to process.