A woman trapped in Afghanistan while New Zealand authorities have held her passport for three years, is pleading for help.
Documents show she was in the final stages of getting a visa under the Refugee Quota Family Reunification category in mid-2019, but Immigration New Zealand (INZ) delayed, and now will not give her a visa due to Covid-19 restrictions, and has just rejected her on humanitarian grounds.
"You tell me what should I do with my life, should I just give up [on] life?" the woman Avada* told RNZ, through her cousin Mina* in New Zealand.
"Please ask immigration to don't leave me hanging."
Officials said they held her passport since August 2018 partly because the mail was unreliable but had arranged to send it back now, without a visa.
Her lawyer Angela Smith of Community Law Waikato said it was "outrageous".
As a woman, and a minority Hazara, without proper papers, she was at "huge, huge risk".
"We want her to be granted that residency visa and at least we've then got the chance to try to get that passport to her, get her across a land border," Smith said.
'Taliban nearly killed mum'
Mina said Avada fled her home when the Taliban took the Afghan capital in August, was rebuffed at Kabul airport among many others trying to get out, then tried to cross the border into Iran.
Others succeeded, but without a passport, she did not; Mina told RNZ the minibus driver who transported the women at night was caught and killed by the Taliban.
Avada said the Taliban almost killed her mother, and beat her sisters.
"The other day mum called. Taliban nearly killed mum, they beat up my two sisters, they are just teenager."
She herself was fleeing a violent, forced marriage to come to New Zealand.
"It's dangerous to stay there more," Avada said.
"All this happened to me is because of this case. I am destroyed, I risked my life because of this."
Two years ago she had already passed all the necessary medical and security checks, and had a DNA test to prove the family link to the former refugees she planned to live with here.
INZ told her in September 2019 it had "submitted the application for a second person check ... recommending approval".
That never came.
"She really should have been out of Afghanistan well before our borders closed," Smith said.
INZ said in a statement "unfortunately" it did not process her application in time.
Since Covid-19 hit, it has been processing, but not deciding upon, offshore visa applications.
It was "hopeful" it would finalise Avada's application soon after it began making decisions again, whenever that was.
Avada tried another tack in August, applying for a 'border exception' on humanitarian grounds, to allow for a critical purpose visa.
INZ told her: "We are not satisfied you meet the requirements.
"We appreciate this is a gravely difficult and uncertain situation for you. The government continues to work through other options to support the humanitarian effort.
"The New Zealand Government is gravely concerned about the rapidly deteriorating situation ... and we understand it is a very difficult and traumatic time for Afghan nationals", but the focus was evacuating Afghans who had helped the NZ Defence Force.
Smith said all of her applications for critical border visas were rejected from refugee-linked cases.
INZ border and visa operations general manager Nicola Hogg in a statement said that the "bar for humanitarian border exception requests is set high".
Smith said she could not think of a more deserving case. "She is a single woman ... she is without her passport as it is here in New Zealand."
Hogg acknowledged INZ had held the woman's passport for a "significant time".
Passports needed a physical visa stamp in them, so sometimes it held on to in them to avoid "a drawn-out process" of mailing back and forth.
In Avada's case, it had the passport "for an extended period of time as she currently resides in Afghanistan and the mail service can be unreliable".
Community Law is seeking a judicial review early next month on behalf of 70 clients regarding INZ's stance of not making decisions about offshore visa applications.
Avada told her cousin she was despairing and felt ill. She said other people she knew had got visas for other countries.
"Do you know how bad my situation is, do you know if I couldn't find any place to go? What is my fault? Why is there is no proper answer?"
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was approached for comment but the PM's office referred this to Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi.
- August 2018: Immigration NZ gets the woman's passport and family reunification application
- February 2019: A case worker starts on it, asking for information by 20 March - but only on that date does Immigration send the lawyer a copy of a crucial document; Immigration grants an extension, partly given the impact of the mosque attacks on clients including those offshore
- June: Immigration tells woman's lawyer national security check processes are outside its control but it continues "to monitor these on a daily basis"
- September: Family link confirmation received using DNA test, all security checks completed. Case officer is recommending approval
- January 2020: Delays mean Immigration begins to question the woman's sponsor's circumstances
- March 2020: Covid-19 lockdown
- June 2020: Immigration says it is still waiting for a second case officer's sign-off and warns Covid has put applications on hold
- July-August 2021: Taliban take over Afghanistan; woman flees
- 1 September 2021: Immigration rejects woman's plea for a visa on humanitarian grounds
- 3 November: Judicial review sought by Community Law to be heard
*Avada and *Mina names changes to protect their identity.