Afghan students who learnt English from New Zealand troops say their lives are now in danger because of it.
The students are pleading with the New Zealand government to help them leave Afghanistan.
Gullahmad Shahriyar was one of the 20 or so students who were taught English by the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan between 2005 and 2013.
He was now worried he could be tortured or killed by the Taliban regime, which was targeting citizens suspected of interacting with foreign forces.
“The Taliban search house to house to find their target and threaten their family members. There are many people who are targeted by the Taliban and the danger is very clear.”
Cabinet agreed on a resettlement offer for Afghan nationals in August last year, when the Taliban took the capital, Kabul.
The application window closed less than 10 days later, and was limited to people who had worked for the New Zealand government and their immediate families.
Diamond Kazimi, who was an interpreter for New Zealand troops in Bamiyan before coming to New Zealand in 2011, said that was not enough time.
“Some of these people were up in the mountains, they didn’t have Wi-Fi, they didn’t have the resources to apply within that timeframe so they’ve missed out,” he said.
“They’re very vulnerable, they’ve got no hope, they’ve got no future, literally their lives are hanging up in the air and it’s just living under hell for most of these people.”
Kazimi said the government should do more to support the people who helped New Zealand, and that other allied countries – like Australia, Canada, the UK and the US – did not have a deadline for resettlement applications.
“They have basically brought anyone that had links with their government or their defence force and anyone that has provided services and support during the 20-year war in Afghanistan.
“If you compare that to what New Zealand has done it’s pretty much a 10 percent.”
Retired Colonel supports more Afghans coming to NZ
Certificates seen by RNZ show the English teachers were mainly military chaplains.
Retired Colonel Richard Hall, who commanded New Zealand troops in Bamiyan from 2008 to 2009, said his contingent did not teach English, but he was aware others did.
It was a tough situation because the reconstruction team was in contact with so many local, he said.
“We interacted with numerous provincial and district officials, numerous medical centres, schools, building contractors, people that worked on our bases and these people have got a far closer association to the PRT than some students that may or may not have received English teaching.”
Some of the people left behind were directly employed by New Zealand forces, Hall said.
“Do I feel that we should allow more Afghans to come here? The answer is probably yes,” he said.
“I think all Western countries, including New Zealand, have left some people behind that could justifiably come here but governments have to balance how many people they think they can absorb.”
The Defence Force directed RNZ’s questions to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, which said the government’s resettlement offer had clear parameters.
More than 1700 people were brought back from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover, in what was one of the largest humanitarian efforts undertaken by New Zealand in recent decades, it said.
A spokesperson for Minister of Immigration Michael Wood confirmed he had been contacted by the students but said there were no plans to re-open the resettlement offer.
However, this year’s refugee quota included spaces for Afghan refugees, the spokesperson said.
“In September 2022, the Minister confirmed details of the next three years of the Refugee Quota Programme, including the composition of the 2022/23 quota.
“A part of this announcement included that the number of places specifically set aside for Afghan refugees has been brought forward with 200 places specifically set aside for Afghan refugees as a result of the Taliban takeover in 2021.”
Story Credit: rnz.co.nz