Afghan package decried as too little

OLIVIA CARVILLE
Last updated 05:00 28/10/2012
NZ in Bamiyan
NZDF
New Zealand troops patrol the Kahmard District.

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The New Zealand Government's resettlement package offer for Afghan interpreters pales in comparison to other countries and will leave former interpreters regretting they ever worked for the Kiwi troops, one former interpreter says.

The Government last week announced a resettlement package offer would be made to 23 Afghan interpreters currently working with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan.

Former interpreters have been excluded from the offer but will be looked upon "sympathetically" by the Government if they apply through the normal channels, Prime Minister John Key said. However, former Afghan interpreters and a former PRT patrol liaison officer believe the offer is "lean" compared with other countries.

The Sunday Star-Times asked the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) what packages were being offered to interpreters by other countries with a presence in Afghanistan but were told to inquire with the countries independently.

Canada, which had troops in Afghanistan for the past 11 years, told the Star-Times yesterday that it was fast-tracking current and former Afghan interpreters to get Canadian citizenship "as a recognition of what they have done for our country".

More than 800 interpreters had applied for the offer so far, a Canadian Government spokesman said.

"We recognise we wouldn't have been able to do the work we did as soldiers in Afghanistan without the interpreters to assist us in doing our work."

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

Former PRT patrol liaison officer Carsten Grimm, 33, believed the Afghan interpreters who had worked for the PRT were equally deserving.

Grimm spent six months in Bamiyan province in 2008 and worked alongside six interpreters during that period.

He said there was a strong bond between the interpreters and the troops and that the translators were a "vital part of our patrol".

"Every meeting I had with locals I had to rely intimately on the interpreters to achieve any progress. We wouldn't have been able to achieve what we did without them."

It was "fantastic" the Government offered the resettlement package to the current interpreters, but he believed many Kiwi troops who had served in Bamiyan would hold "grave concerns" for the translators left behind.

"Personally I am not convinced a fundamentalist insurgent would draw a difference between a former and current interpreter with the PRT. There would be no distinction."

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The Afghan interpreters had shown "dedication and commitment" to New Zealand and put their lives in danger to translate for the Kiwi troops and Grimm said he would "love" to see all former interpreters who had worked for the PRT "out of harm's way and safe in New Zealand".

Comparing New Zealand's resettlement package offer with the Canadian citizenship offer made the Kiwi package appear "lean", he said.

Former interpreter Diamond Kazimi, 19, who now lives in Christchurch, believed his ex-colleagues, who have been excluded from the offer, would "regret" ever working for New Zealand now.

Some former interpreters, who had worked for the PRT for up to a decade, had been forced into hiding after receiving death threats from the Taleban and he said they had been relying on an asylum offer from the New Zealand Government to get their lives back.

Kazimi believed about 50 Afghan translators had worked for the PRT in total, yet only 23 were being offered resettlement.

"It's just unbelievable. The numbers are not that big and it is a matter of life or death for them," he said.

"The New Zealand Government has let down the bonds formed between the troops on the ground and the local interpreters and they are leaving too many people behind."

- Sunday Star Times

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