Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Labour: Don't abandon Afghan interpreters

New Zealand soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan. Photo / Patrick Gower
New Zealand soldiers on patrol in Afghanistan. Photo / Patrick Gower

Prime Minister John Key says he is sympathetic towards the Afghan interpreters working with Kiwi troops who say their lives will be in danger after New Zealand pulls out of Afghanistan.

Some of the 26 interpreters working with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan province are seeking asylum in New Zealand after the final withdrawal of Kiwi troops next April, saying their work over a long period has made their identities known to insurgents.

Mr Key today said the interpreters made "a sound case" and had a legitimate position to put to the Government.

"I'm sympathetic to what they're saying. They've helped New Zealand. We want to make sure that they are safe as best we can, but we just need to assess the risks, whether the risks are real and genuine to them.

"We need to work our way through the issue and see what it might all mean. I'm not closing the door to it."

Mr Key said he had not yet seen advice from his officials but it was feasible there was some risk to the interpreters if they remained in Afghanistan.

The interpreters would have to bring in their wider families, but how many and whether they would be brought in under the refugee migrant quota were among the issues to be considered.

Labour leader David Shearer today called for the interpreters to be offered the chance to resettle in New Zealand, saying there was no doubt their lives would be in danger once Kiwi troops pull out.

"We cannot abandon these people. They have risked their lives working with our soldiers on the ground. We have a duty to help them," he said.

Mr Shearer has worked in conflict zones overseas and said he knew first-hand how important interpreters were.

"Not only do they help with communication in often volatile and dangerous situations but they also use their local knowledge and contacts to identify risks and to protect those working with them."

Labour's foreign affairs spokesman Phil Goff said there was an ethical and moral obligation to look after the interpreters and their families.

He said Canada was offering Afghan interpreters who had worked with their soldiers and diplomats a new home in Canada.

"I call on our Government to follow that example."

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman has spoken to five of New Zealand's interpreters and received a letter from them asking for asylum in New Zealand.

He said in April he would look seriously at the risk told them there was no guarantee they could come to New Zealand.

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