Lincoln Tan is the New Zealand Herald’s diversity, ethnic affairs and immigration senior reporter.

Afghan allies start Kiwi lives

Interpreters and families arrive in New Zealand after helping NZ troops in their homeland.

Afghan interpreters and their families arriving yesterday at Whenuapai airbase to begin new lives in New Zealand.  Photo / Dean Purcell
Afghan interpreters and their families arriving yesterday at Whenuapai airbase to begin new lives in New Zealand. Photo / Dean Purcell

Looking down from the plane, Gulnazim Kazimi cannot believe how big the ocean is.

"There's just water, water everywhere, I cannot believe it," he said.

It was the first time the 24-year-old Afghan has seen the ocean, and now his dream is to touch it.

Mr Kazimi is one of 30 Afghan interpreters and their families welcomed to New Zealand yesterday.

A military plane carrying the group of 94, the youngest 3 months old, landed at Whenuapai airbase where the new arrivals were welcomed by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse after their two-day flight.

Last year, the Government offered resettlement for all interpreters who were employed by the Provincial Reconstruction Team or had worked with the New Zealand police in Bamiyan in the past two years.

Mr Woodhouse said the offer reflected the Government's view that "we should demonstrate a duty of care to personnel who risked their lives to help New Zealanders".

"These men played a vital role in the operation of the Provincial Reconstruction Team and supporting the New Zealand police in Bamiyan, and we are grateful for their service."

The police sent 16 contingents to Afghanistan, and worked to help the local force in areas such as leadership, management and training.

Last month, Kiwibase in Bamiyan lowered the New Zealand flag for the last time.

Inspector Soni Malaulau, who spent six months in Afghanistan in 2009, hugged his interpreter Abbus soon after he got off the plane.

"He's a good guy, and I am thrilled that he's now here," Mr Malaulau said.

"I've shown him pictures of where I live, in Kapiti Coast, and now he'll be getting a chance to see the real thing."

Four of the interpreters in the group who assisted the police were welcomed by Commissioner Peter Marshall.

"We have been extremely well served by these professionals who were so vital to the success of the New Zealand police contingent in Bamiyan," he said.

The interpreters and their families will spend their first eight weeks at the Mangere Refugee Resettlement Centre, where they will go through a programme that will give them the skills and information they need to start their new lives in New Zealand.

They will then be resettled in Hamilton and Palmerston North, where there are established Afghan communities.

They will be supported by the New Zealand Red Cross and other support organisations in finding work and accessing services.

Red Cross national president Jenny McMahon said the organisation would be helping the interpreters to find jobs and enrol their children at school and teaching them local laws and customs.

Interpreter Parwiz Hakimi, 28, said he was worried that "four or five colleagues" who missed out because they did not meet all the requirements of the government offer would now become targets after the Kiwi troops left.

"I'd like to ask the New Zealand Government, if possible try to bring them to New Zealand as well," the father of three said.

"We are not going to be happy to see our fellow friends getting killed or tortured by the Taleban."

Prime Minister John Key said yesterday he was very grateful to the Afghan interpreters who had risked their lives to help New Zealand troops in Bamiyan Province.

The men played a vital role in the operation of New Zealand's PRT, he said.

"It's only right that we recognise their contribution ...

"We would like to offer them a very warm welcome and wish them the best."

On the troops' withdrawal, Mr Key said: "We are proud of our very significant contribution in Afghanistan but it came at a great cost.

"We will never forget the 10 brave soldiers who gave their lives.

"With Anzac Day coming up this Thursday, I will be remembering the sacrifice that these soldiers made."

30 Afghan interpreters arrived in NZ today

3500 New Zealand troops have served in Afghanistan in last 10 years

10 kiwi soldiers died.

- NZ Herald

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