Afghan resettlement package defended

KATE CHAPMAN
Last updated 11:13 13/11/2012

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Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman has defended the resettlement package offered to interpreters working with New Zealand troops in Afghanistan.

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said the offer was lean in comparison to packages offered by other countries and could permanently scar New Zealand's reputation.

The 23 interpreters currently working with the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Bamiyan were expected to be offered resettlement in New Zealand or a three-year salary payout if they remained in Afghanistan. The offer does not include former interpreters.

Last week, 12 former interpreters wrote a formal plea to the Defence Force asking that the offer be extended to them.

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

Coleman said the Government would consider all factors and give everyone a fair hearing.

"We're going to act in good faith and we're not going to leave anyone behind who may genuinely be at risk."

He said he knew some former interpreters were concerned.

There were a range of packages on offer from other countries involved in Afghanistan and they may not all align.

"It's a matter of working out who could genuinely have a case to say potentially they may be at some sort of risk."

It was unclear whether the interpreters who chose to come to New Zealand would apply under the United Nations refugee category. Coleman said the Government was still working on the details and would make an announcement before Christmas.

There would be a cost but it was a matter of doing the right thing, he said.

"We couldn't have done our job in Bamiyan without these interpreters."

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

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- The Dominion Post

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