Goff: Afghan offer paints NZ in a poor light

Last updated 07:36 12/11/2012
Phil Goff
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ
PHIL GOFF: New Zealand is 'morally obliged' to protect at-risk Afghans.

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The Government's resettlement package offer to Afghan interpreters appears noticeably lean in comparison with other countries and could permanently scar New Zealand's reputation, former interpreters and Labour's foreign affairs spokesman says.

Last month the Government said 23 interpreters employed with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan would be offered a resettlement package, but former interpreters, many of whom were forced into hiding after serving with Kiwi troops, were excluded from the offer.

Twelve former interpreters, who were all employed by the PRT for more than five years, wrote a formal plea to the New Zealand Defence Force last week to extend the offer and effectively save their lives before the troops pull out in April.

Spokesman for the group, Bashir Ahmad, said the former interpreters had begun to regret risking their lives as translators for New Zealand.

"When we heard about the decision, I was asking myself, 'Why didn't I work for the Americans or the Canadians or anyone else?'

"If I did my family would have been out of here by now and we would not have been ignored or excluded," he said.

Ahmad was forced to go into hiding in a small township in northern Afghanistan after receiving death threats from the Taleban and said he knew of five interpreters from the same township who had worked for the United States and were now safe in the US.

Fairfax Media contacted other countries to find out what offers they had made to the Afghan interpreters who had worked alongside their troops.

The US offered a special immigration visa programme to any Afghan who had worked as an interpreter for the US Government for 12 months.

Britain assessed individual interpreters case by case "in order to meet the needs of the individual", a Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokeswoman said.

Some interpreters were relocated within Afghanistan and others were relocated to Britain, she said.

The policy was provided to current interpreters and those who had worked for Britain in the past year.

"People who have put their life on the line for the United Kingdom will not be abandoned," she said.

Canada was fast-tracking current and former Afghan interpreters to get Canadian citizenship "as a recognition of what they have done for our country".

The interpreters had "not only saved Canadian forces' lives" but enabled the mission to succeed, a Canadian spokesman said.

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Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff believed the Government was "morally obliged" to protect anyone who had worked for New Zealand in a way that had put their lives at risk.

"We can't say we have used your services and accepted your loyalty and now we are leaving you to your fate," he said.

"This sends a bad message not only to Afghanistan but around the world."

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said the Government was "keeping an open mind on such issues".

- The Dominion Post

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