3 Feb 2022

Afghans still stranded despite court ruling allowing them into New Zealand

2:02 pm on 3 February 2022

Afghans seeking to escape the Taliban are stranded, more than two months after winning a High Court ruling that reopened the way into New Zealand for them.

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

An RNZAF evacuation of New Zealanders and Australians from Afghanistan back in October. Photo: Supplied / New Zealand Defence Force

Community Law Aotearoa blames the government for blocking scores of people from getting the official help that is available to other Afghans with visas.

Chief executive Sue Moroney also says Immigration New Zealand had just two officers processing their visas, and the whole situation "flies in the face" of the court's intentions.

"We urge the government to fix this unjust situation urgently. These New Zealand residents are in life-threatening situations. They have been in hiding for six months now - they have run out of money, food and water during a harsh Afghanistan winter," she said.

Immigration said it now had nine staff processing the Refugee Family Support Resident Visa applications, which it restarted processing only after Community Law won its High Court challenge in November.

But Moroney said only 17 out of the 77 applicants since November got a Family Support Category visa, and even those 17 were still stuck because there is no way out without official assistance.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) said those visa holders did not fit the criteria to get help, which was focused on people who helped New Zealand agencies in Afghanistan and their close family.

"Visas issued as a result of the November judicial review, and any subsequent visas issued outside of the policy agreed by Ministers, do not fit within scope of Operation Whakahokinga Mai," MFAT said in a statement.

That scope was agreed by Cabinet back in August, at a time when Immigration had stopped processing many visas due to Covid-19. It was also refusing to consider the Afghan applicants on compassionate grounds.

MFAT said it was giving advice to the visa holders who were not eligible for help.

Moroney said Cabinet should revisit that scope, otherwise a visa, however quickly processed, did not provide a means to get out.

"We don't have the authority of government officials to deal directly with other state governments to arrange entry and exit visas for Iran and neither do our clients.

"We also don't have the resources to pay for accommodation in Iran while they await a place on a flight out, nor will other state governments recognise Certificates of Identity provided by the New Zealand government, unless the people are part the Afghanistan Departure Taskforce."

MFAT said Whakahokinga Mai offered a level of assistance that was "exceptional and goes beyond what is usually available even to New Zealanders offshore".

Immigration said the family support visa applications were complex.

Border and Visa Operations acting general manager Stephanie Greathead said "The applications are at varying stages in processing, with many pending additional information we require from applicants and more applications are expected to be completed in coming weeks.

"INZ is committed to processing these applications and meeting the orders of the High Court.

"At the same time, INZ is also separately assessing whether the applicants meet the requirements to be granted a critical purpose visitor visa as an exception to border restrictions on humanitarian grounds in line with the judgement of the High Court. A number of the applicants ... have been granted visas."

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