Kiwis' Afghan helpers seek asylum

Last updated 16:24 08/10/2012

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Prime minister John Key says he's sympathetic to 26 interpreters working with Kiwi troops in Afghanistan who claim their lives are in danger if they can't resettle in New Zealand.

The interpreters with the New Zealand provincial reconstruction team in the Bamiyan province are seeking asylum in New Zealand, saying they and their families will be captured, tortured and killed by insurgent forces for helping the foreigners.

The New Zealand troops are due to withdrawal from the province in April.

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman is preparing recommendations on their plight and will take a paper to Cabinet for approval.

Key today said the interpreters had a legitimate position to put to the government.

"They have worked for New Zealand with New Zealand’s best interests at heart and it is at least feasible that there is some risk to them if they remain in Afghanistan.’’

However, the government would need to test their claims, he said.

‘‘I’m sympathetic to what they are saying, they have helped New Zealand, we want to make sure they are safe as best we can.

‘‘I’m not closing the door to them.’’ Labour leader David Shearer said New Zealand cannot abandon the interpreters.

‘‘They have risked their lives working with our soldiers on the ground. We have a duty to help them.’’

Shearer, who worked for the United Nations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said interpreters did important work in conflict zones.

‘‘Not only do they help with communication in often volatile and dangerous situations, but they also use their local knowledge and contacts to identify risks and to protect those working with them.

‘‘The interpreters are very visible in their jobs and there's no doubt their lives will be in danger when the Kiwi troops pull out of Afghanistan.’’

Labour’s foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said Canada was establishing a special programme to help interpreters who had worked with their soldiers, and New Zealand should follow their lead.

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