31 Aug 2021

'Give us some hope' - former NZDF interpreter to government

12:17 pm on 31 August 2021

An Afghan interpreter who worked for the New Zealand Defence Force says 36 of his colleagues, who were promised a seat on an evacuation flight, now feel hopeless after the government pulled its troops over security risks.

An RNZAF C130 landed in Kabul and safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians.

An NZDF evacuation flight in Kabul. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force

Basir Ahmad worked for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) and has been liaising with the government to help others secure visas and leave.

More than 500 people in Afghanistan eligible to come to New Zealand have been left to their own fate after a bombing at Kabul Airport put an end to further New Zealand Defence Force evacuation flights.

Ahmad said he understood the security reasons, but learning there would be no more flights out was devastating.

"Pretend you're on an island and there are lots of snakes and things like that ... and there's a flight that it's going to save you.

"But it just leaves, and the only thing left is you're very disappointed. You are disappointed. We were all disappointed."

He said there had been delays with securing some of the team's visas, and the day they were all finalised was the day of the blast.

He said, if New Zealand officials had been quicker to finalise the visas, his group would have been cleared to get on one of the earlier planes...

"I would make phone calls every day and talk to the MFAT officials about this visa processing time. I said if you process this [normally] it's not going to happen on time.

"But they did not listen to me and the security situation got worse and now suddenly they left Afghanistan."

Ahmad had left his home and was staying in a hotel for two weeks. That time would soon end and he did not know what he would do next.

"Some of our group members, they were staying in a hotel, they just finished everything. And they just got nothing because they planned everything based on the evacuation.

"And they said, okay, we'll be evacuated and ... this is good enough for now, but now everything is changing."

He said he would keep contacting MFAT but the situation was looking more hopeless by the day.

"They say they're working on a plan, but we don't know what does it mean, working on a plan? Is it a quick plan? How long does it take?

"Our group members, they have run out of everything, they have no money, their shelter is not in good condition... our financial situation is just zero. It's all bad.

He said the other members of the groups were becoming increasingly desperate.

"I get a lot of phone calls. They call me. Do you have any news? What's the plan? When are we going to be evacuated... All the questions that I don't have the answer."

"While I'm just talking to you I have six calls."

He said, while New Zealand personnel were no longer on the ground, they could perhaps seek help from other Western forces still in Afghanistan.

"So if they can talk to these guys in there, we could be evacuated. You know, maybe today."

"If there is any way, any quick way for the government to help us then, give us some hope. You know, right now, we're very hopeless."

He said the Taliban were actively searching for people who had helped New Zealand and the group was in serious danger.

The government has said it was not giving up on helping those stranded in Afghanistan, but it was unclear what its plan was.

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