Interpreter vying for NZ citizenship abducted by Taliban

By Brendan Manning, Isaac Davison

Other Afghan interpreters and their families arrive at Whenuapai airbase in Auckland in April last year. Photo / File / Dean Purcell
Other Afghan interpreters and their families arrive at Whenuapai airbase in Auckland in April last year. Photo / File / Dean Purcell

An Afghan interpreter vying for New Zealand citizenship has narrowly escaped execution by the Taliban.

The 27-year-old interpreter, known as Hamid, served alongside the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) from 2006 to mid-2013 in Bamiyan, Kabul and at Bagram airbase, Radio New Zealand (RNZ) reported.

Hamid was employed by the NZDF to translate media conferences and when New Zealand forces left Afghanistan his life was frequently threatened by the Taliban.

Translators are often targeted by the Taliban, and near the end of 2013 Hamid was abducted by the Taliban and held for three days until he escaped.

RNZ correspondent Jon Stephenson said Hamid's plight was made even more poignant by the fact that two weeks before his abduction, he had written to Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse, pleading for refugee status because he felt his life was in danger if he stayed in Afghanistan.

"Because of the work he had done for the New Zealand Defence Force, he was abducted from his vehicle on a road to Kabul. He was taken to a Taliban detention centre and said he was tortured, certainly severely beaten, maltreated for three days.

"He didn't divulge any information about his work with the New Zealand Defence Force and he had a very lucky escape when the Taliban that he was being held by was attacked by Afghan national security forces.

"If he hadn't been able to escape because of that, in my view it's almost certain he would have been executed - probably beheaded."

Hamid was hospitalised for several weeks after he escaped due to the injuries he suffered during his ordeal, Mr Stephenson said.

"This is just the latest saga in an ongoing fiasco with the interpreters. In my view, this man should have been treated more proactively when New Zealand left Afghanistan because of the risk that the interpreters were facing."

Hamid has received a letter of support from an NZDF captain saying he was at risk and recommending strongly that he be given citizenship, Mr Stephenson said.

"This guy is in constant fear for his life now. He's been directly threatened by the insurgents and he feels that he is running on borrowed time.

"In my view this again shows that there almost a lack of humanity and a lack of reality in officials back here."

Labour's defence spokesman Phil Goff said that if Hamid's life was genuinely under threat, his application should be fast-tracked by Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse.

"The Afghan interpreters put their lives at risk loyally serving the New Zealand Defence Force. Their applications are backed by Kiwi soldiers with whom they worked.

"It does nothing for New Zealand's reputation not to reciprocate the loyalty and readiness to risk their lives that the interpreters showed."

Greens' defence spokesman Kennedy Graham said that the man's mistreatment at the hands of insurgents should be a wake-up call for the minister.

"A busy Immigration Minister may think three months is fast-track but when you are marked for death by the Taliban it is an eternity."

Mr Woodhouse's office said it had received the request for asylum in late November, and it was being considered.

- APNZ

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