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Anger at NZ government as Afghan ex-vice-president resettled while hundreds of others trapped


New Zealand’s decision to resettle a former vice-president of Afghanistan and 13 family members has sparked controversy, with some asking why hundreds of Afghans who helped New Zealand forces or were associated with them remain trapped abroad and in fear for their lives.

Sarwar Danish had already escaped to Turkey before recently arriving in New Zealand, according to Stuff, which first reported the news.

Associate immigration minister Phil Twyford said Danish, a member of Afghanistan’s Hazara minority, was resettled partly because of his human rights advocacy.

But one Afghan translator who worked with the New Zealand SAS told Stuff the case highlighted the need for the new Zealand government to do more. “It’s very frustrating that someone … with zero connection to New Zealand has been resettled in this country, when people who directly supported the New Zealand SAS have been left behind.”

Assadullah Nazari, president of New Zealand’s Hazara Afghan Association, said he supported Danish’s resettlement but noted there were hundreds of Hazara still at risk in Afghanistan who want visas.

“To see that they are still there and suffering – that the Taliban are killing them – and that Danish has been brought from a safe place in Turkey? It just doesn’t seem fair.”

Nazari said the government should do more to resettle others who remain in grave danger in Afghanistan.

Danish declined to comment when approached through an intermediary.

New Zealand has granted 1,400 visas to Afghans as part of its response to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August. Twelve hundred were to Afghans associated with New Zealand’s presence in Afghanistan, and 200 to Afghans at “extreme risk” from the Taliban. Danish, the second vice-president in the administration of then-president Ashraf Ghani, is part of the latter category.

However, of the Afghans granted visas, only 800 have actually arrived in New Zealand, in part because New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) evacuation efforts from Kabul were cut short in late August after a fatal terrorist attack.

Following the attack prime minister Jacinda Ardern said, “The future evacuation will look different to what it has to date, and it will be difficult and it may take longer, but we are not giving up on bringing those who need to come home, home.”

At the time, one interpreter who had been approved for a resettlement visa accused New Zealand’s government of “total betrayal” for stopping evacuation flights, asking, “What will happen to us?”

A Newshub analysis late last year found that of the 547 Afghans granted visas because they or an immediate family member had worked with the NZDF, just 60 had made it to New Zealand.

Due to the closure of New Zealand’s border in 2020 due to Covid-19, INZ declined to process a number of visa applications from Afghans – wrongly, according to a later high court ruling. The high court also required INZ to prioritise processing resettlement applications from at-risk Afghans. However Raza Khadim, a former Afghan translator for the NZDF and a spokesperson for the Afghan Veterans Interpreters Association, said the process remained “super slow”.

New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry says it will not consider new resettlement applications from Afghans and their families who helped New Zealand forces.

Now, some visa enquiries are going unanswered. According to one New Zealand citizen and Hazara who went to Afghanistan prior to the country’s collapse to help his daughter-in-law’s family escape, he has not heard from INZ or the Foreign Ministry after repeated applications and enquiries.

They are now moving around the country to avoid the Taliban, who are targeting the family. “I don’t know what I should do. I don’t know how to handle this situation. But I can’t leave them here,” said the man, who the Guardian has chosen not to name for safety reasons.

INZ declined to comment on the man’s case for privacy reasons.

Asked about Danish’s case, Sue Moroney, chief executive of Community Law, said: “I’m really reluctant to pit people against each other … everyone is in a precarious situation.”

She noted however, “What we’re surprised about is that INZ would prioritise other visa applications to process over the ones they’ve been instructed by the high court to fix. [Danish’s resettlement] alarms us from that perspective.”



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