22 Sep 2021

Government fails to front for Afghan interpreters who made trip to Parliament

9:50 am on 22 September 2021

The government is being urged to be more up-front about its plans to rescue hundreds of people trapped in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan.

A group of interpreters drove to the Capital from Hamilton and stood outside Parliament for hours on Monday.

A group of interpreters drove to the Wellington from Hamilton and stood outside Parliament for hours on Monday. Photo: RNZ / Jane Patterson

More than 300 New Zealand nationals and permanent residents, their families, and other visa holders were evacuated last month.

The Defence Force's rescue mission was cut short following deadly explosions at Kabul airport. Ministers have been discussing how to help those left behind since.

Mazari was an interpreter for New Zealand troops in Afghanistan and re-settled here almost a decade ago.

He wanted his family to join him but he said they were trapped and in danger.

RNZ has changed Mazari's name because he feared the Taliban would track down is family if he was identified.

"They cannot hurt us. We are safe. Our brothers and sisters which are there, they are not safe anymore."

Mazari applied for a family support visa in 2017 and was told it would take years to process.

He wanted the government to speed up the process and reunite him with this family.

"Now, this situation is different. Afghanistan is not the normal country like before. And so now the terrorists, they took over the country, and they ruling and they do whatever they want."

Mazari was one of a group of interpreters who drove to Wellington from Hamilton and stood outside Parliament for hours on Monday, hoping to meet with the minister of immigration

No-one from the government showed.

In a letter to one of the interpreters, obtained by the ACT Party, Kris Faafoi said he could not meet them because he was too busy.

ACT leader David Seymour said "Is he really saying these people, who gave us 10 years in great danger, don't deserve 10 minutes while their relatives are having their homes ransacked and in some cases killed? It's just absolutely outrageous from the minister".

Faafoi defended his response.

"I don't want to get in the habit of going out there whenever someone arrives but we understand their plight, and we're asking officials to do some work to understand what we can do more."

It was not just the families of the interpreters stuck in Afghanistan.

Hundreds of people who were eligible to come to New Zealand were left behind after the Defence Force's rescue mission ended abruptly.

For some weeks now, ministers have been looking at how to get them out.

Faafoi said the government was considering using the refugee programme.

New Zealand's refugee quota was 1500 a year but that number was slashed at the start of the pandemic.

"We've asked officials to see what it would take to be able to get that back up to capacity or do more within that space as well. But again, we're kind of looking for options as to what we can do."

But National's Gerry Brownlee said ministers were not moving fast enough.

He wanted the government to be clearer about how they were trying to help those left behind.

"I'd love to know what their plan is. Because at the moment we have nobody on the ground from MFAT anywhere nearby. There's no one in Pakistan, which would be the logical place to bring people out through."

Ministers should explain how they will help people in a country Defence Force troops can not enter and is ruled by a government New Zealand did not recognise, Brownlee said.

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