By Hamish Clark
The Government has promised not to leave behind any Afghan interpreters who worked for the New Zealand Army, and whose lives may be at risk after the soldiers come home.
Only those currently with the army in Bamiyan have been offered asylum, with former interpreters missing out. But the Government says it will consider special cases.
Prime Minister John Key has embraced the groups of Afghan interpreters – locals who worked for the New Zealand Army and risked their lives.
But under the Government’s resettlement programme, only the 23 interpreters currently working for the army will be offered a new life in New Zealand.
“It's not fair that 23 will be offered and not the rest of them,” says former Afghan interpreter Diamond Kazimi. “It doesn't make sense.”
Mr Kazimi was an interpreter for the Kiwis and wears his army polo shirt with pride. He has been sponsored to live here, but his brothers and cousins aren't so lucky.
Rouf Kazimi - who has met with Mr Key - spent 11 years with the army before moving on, meaning he has missed out being allowed into New Zealand.
“For them it is really heartbreaking,” says Diamond Kazimi. “They are saying, ‘Does New Zealand really have to do this, make this decision?’ And we are excluded from this deal. We are the ones that have helped New Zealand in the early days in 2003 when New Zealand first arrived in Afghanistan.”
“We are going to act in good faith and we are not going to leave anyone behind who may genuinely be at risk,” says Defence Minister Jonathon Coleman.
The Government package includes an offer of resettlement, or three years' salary if they remain in Afghanistan.
The father of fallen soldier Tim O'Donnell wants it to extended to former interpreters who risked their lives. Dr Coleman says he will listen to their pleas but won't make any promises.
“They will certainly get a fair hearing – absolutely,” says Dr Coleman.
A decision should be known by Christmas.