Refugee applications for Afghans wanting to come to New Zealand have been languishing for as long as six years with almost 400 people waiting in line and hundreds more waiting for a chance to queue.
They are the families of those who rendered assistance to New Zealand's efforts in the stricken nation, left in limbo by a refugee policy that hasn't opened the door to anyone since November 2017.
New information from Immigration NZ has revealed that the longest wait by those family members who have applied for entry to New Zealand is March 2015.
It's a bureaucratic door wedged shut by Covid-19 which has stopped the offshore processing of visas to travel to New Zealand. It means those who have applied and meet the requirements can't get here - even if they could get into New Zealand.
Former NZ Defence Force interpreters have told the Herald of their desperation over family again caught in a regime ruled by the absolutist Taliban.
They have spent days and sleepless nights with only sporadic contact with parents, siblings and other relatives forced into hiding over fear of a brutal crackdown on those who helped coalition forces during the 20-year conflict.
The applications to come to New Zealand are caught in the system know as the Refugee Family Support Category, which is intended to allow those who came to New Zealand as refugees to be joined by family.
Former interpreter Raza Khadim told the Herald of applications being effectively accepted back in 2017 yet "only two or three people have got their families here".
It was, he said, a "long-term plan" which had tempered some of the frustration over the time taken.
The acceptance it would take time was now in contrast to the perilous situation into which Afghanistan had been plunged, which had seen those whose names were in Immigration NZ's system now hiding from the Taliban in fear of their lives.
Immigration NZ general manager for refugees Fiona Whiteridge said the entire refugee processing system was on hold with Covid-19 closing New Zealand's borders.
Numbers of applications supplied by Immigration NZ showed there were 194 applications from Afghan people under the Refugee Family Support category.
The specific category was different from New Zealand's usual refugee quota and allowed for 600 people a year to be brought into New Zealand through links to family members who were already here.
The 600-person limit was a new increase that had come into effect only in July this year. Prior to that the limit was 300 people.
Those number of spaces was initially offered to those with no other family in New Zealand, known as Tier One. The Tier Two category was for those who had family here trying to reunite with other family members and was only opened up to those people if Tier One failed to reach the 600-person limit.
The last time Tier Two applicants were offered a chance to enter New Zealand was November 2017. Of the 194 applications in the Immigration NZ system, 139 applications were in the Tier Two category.
Of those 139 applications, 87 had not been allocated slots in Tier Two - they were waiting for the opportunity to get into a line which already held 52 other Afghan family applications.
The oldest application in the system for potential Afghan refugees was a Tier Two request from March 2015.
Whiteridge said there was a pause on the entire Refugee Family Support Category with no applications being drawn from those who had expressed interest in coming to New Zealand.
Off-shore visa processing had paused when the pandemic hit and New Zealand's borders closed. It meant those outside New Zealand had no way to get a visa to visit here, which was the point at which Immigration NZ made decisions on refugee applications.
"This means that the vast majority of individuals offshore are unlikely to meet entry requirements and therefore, legally we are unable to decide their applications."
Immigration lawyer Richard McLeod said the entry criteria for refugees trying to reunite families were difficult, particularly for those in the Tier Two category.
He said that the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan had led to an increase in calls for assistance.
"The tragic thing for me as an immigration lawyer is I don't have any good news to give them. There are no options under the current immigration rules to get their families to New Zealand.
"That's sad. If there's a country and people who need assistance, it's Afghanistan."
The Herald has approached the office of Minister of Immigration Kris Faafoi with questions over the lengthy lag in Tier Two applications.
A spokesman said there was no discussion over changes to New Zealand's refugee settings.
However, he said the government's focus on evacuating New Zealanders and others from Afghanistan included those who had worked with, or provided assistance, to New Zealand and their family members.