A group of Afghan interpreters who served with Kiwi troops and resettled in New Zealand after their tours of duty are now worried their family members left behind will be killed in Taliban revenge attacks.
New Zealand has resettled 44 former Afghan interpreters and employees, along with 96 immediate family members since 2012-14.
But all of those interpreters have family remaining in Afghanistan, says Raza Khadim, spokesman of the Afghan Veteran Interpreters Association.
And now the country has fallen back into the hands of the hard-line Taliban organisation, there are desperate fears their lives are in imminent danger.
Khadim says they’ve been trying since 2017 to get family members – including parents and siblings – to join them in New Zealand under the refugee support category.
Only a handful of applications are understood to have been successful.
The other applications remain unresolved, despite some being in the system for four years, and Khadim approaching ministers directly, even Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern last week.
“We’re proud of what we did [working with New Zealand] and looking at the bigger picture of rebuilding our country. And we have absolutely no regrets,” says father-of-two Khadim, 37.
“But we also knew at the time it would have consequences – and we’re seeing the consequences now.”
Khadim welcomes moves to try and rescue other interpreters and at-risk Afghan civilians from Kabul.
An NZDF military aircraft has already having made a mercy mission into the capital’s airport.
And he’s “really, really grateful” he has been able to move to New Zealand to start a new, safe life.
His children were born here and life has been good.
“But our family members are in danger,” Khadim said.
“Some have run away into the mountains. Some have changed cities.”
Most of the family members are in Kabul and Bamiyan Province, where the New Zealand soldiers were based for nearly two decades.
There have been reports of Taliban militants going door to door with “blacklists” and leaning on informants to find people who collaborated with US and Nato forces, and there have been reports of killings.
As interpreters, they went with NZDF soldiers and officers on dangerous patrols, raiding weapons caches, making arrests of suspected Taliban insurgents, and attending tribal meetings.
Their activities were well-known in the community.
“Everyone knew what we were doing and now they’ve [Taliban] come back into control,” Khadim said.
Taliban leadership have been vocal in claims that nobody who used to work with foreign forces would be targeted in revenge attacks.
But Khadim doesn’t buy it.
“This claim of forgiveness or amnesty is just b.s. in my view,” he said.
“History has proven that the Taliban are known for their revenge and retaliation.”
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has been helping more than 200 people in Afghanistan in recent days but has warned its ability to help people outside the airport, where the situation is so volatile, is limited.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Monday the window to evacuate people out of Afghanistan was “unfortunately very limited”.
“Despite our ongoing efforts, we cannot guarantee we can assist all those who are seeking to evacuate,” she said.
“We are monitoring the situation and continue to work urgently with our international partners for the safe return of New Zealanders and those who have supported New Zealand.”
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