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Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the Government has identified 53 New Zealanders who are stranded in Afghanistan after the fall of the government to Taliban forces overnight.
The Government was also aware of 37 Afghan nationals who had worked alongside the NZDF.
Today Cabinet had considered support for those New Zealanders in Afghanistan, and Afghanis who had supported New Zealand during the conflict, and how New Zealand could assist with the humanitarian response, Ardern said at a press briefing.
An NZDF plane would be sent to Afghanistan with around 40 personnel to assist with evacuations, Chief of Defence Force Kevin Short said.
The deployment was expected to last for a month, depending on the security situation.
There was no expectation the security situation in Afghanistan would deteriorate as quickly as it had, Ardern said. What had happened in days had been expected to take two to three months.
Ardern said the criteria that had been used since 2012 around defining those who had worked with New Zealand meant the 37 Afghan nationals did not qualify when they applied on July 5. That criteria had now been overridden by Cabinet.
Communication with those 37 people had occurred through Immigration NZ, Ardern said.
The Operation Burnham inquiry had also added a degree of risk for Afghan nationals who had assisted NZ, she said.
Short said a number of Afghan nationals had been in contact with Immigration NZ. The process would be for them to turn up, be identified, and then evacuated.
Short said they were planning for hundreds of people ultimately needing to be evacuated to New Zealand. The 37 Afghan nationals who had assisted the NZDF had at least 200 close family members.
Ardern called for human rights and the safety of people in Afghanistan to be respected by the incoming Taliban government.
New Zealand has already resettled 44 former Afghan interpreters and employees, along with 96 immediate family members since 2012-13, but many others have had immigration applications declined in recent months.
Defence Minister Peeni Henare said about 3500 NZ personnel had been deployed to Afghanistan in recent years. We had lost 10 personnel. “We mourn their loss,” Henare said.
New Zealand had made a “positive contribution”.
‘Awful situation in front of us’
Act party leader David Seymour asked this morning why their applications had been rejected.
“The Taliban have moved fast but this Government had opportunities to help much sooner than today,” Seymour said.
“Canada got the Afghan people who helped them out last month.”
National MP and former Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee wouldn’t say whether the Government had dropped the ball.
“You can go through that endlessly. The reality is we’ve got a very, very awful situation in front of us at the moment. The focus needs to be on what should be done, and done quickly.
“Anyone who’s associated with or been part of any resistance to the Taliban will be definitely in danger. We know what will happen to those people [if caught]. They will be subjected to very rough treatment, and at the end of it, lose their life.”
The Green Party said it was “heartbreaking” to know that Afghans face the prospect of living under Taliban rule once again, with women and girls at the greatest risk of sexual and gender-based violence.
The party’s human rights spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman said New Zealand could work with allies and partners to ensure Taliban fighters have no more funding and resources, even if that means standing up to our trading partners.
Brownlee joined Ghahraman in saying that the Western efforts in Afghanistan had failed.
“The consequences of that could well be that Afghanistan becomes a home again for the sort of terrorist activity that threatens anybody, anytime,” Brownlee said.
“They will become a rogue state if the rest of the world doesn’t engage with them in on some level.”
That didn’t mean accepting “the philosophy of that regime”.
“But we have to accept the reality of there being that regime. Their history is not one of compromise, nor generosity to people who’ve been opposed to them in the past.
“But you would hope that as they reassume control of the country, they might want to be more engaged with the international community so they can achieve some of the things they claim they’re able to deliver for the Afghan people.”
On the vaccination rollout, the Prime Minister said last week was the biggest yet, with nearly 300,000 people getting a vaccine.