The Government is reviewing desperate immigration cases of former interpreters and other Afghan civilians who helped the New Zealand war effort in Afghanistan as the Taliban continues to take control of the country.
A group of 38 Afghan civilians who helped the New Zealand Provincial Reconstruction Team (NZ PRT) in the Bamyan Province - including interpreters, carpenters, electricians, mechanics, cleaners, and female kitchen workers – are fearing deadly reprisals as the Taliban resurfaces now the Kiwis, Americans and other Nato allies have abandoned the country.
Provinces, districts and towns have been falling daily as the hardline Islamist group has rampaged across Afghanistan over the past month.
The number of civilians killed and injured in the first six months of 2021 is back to the record highs of 2014 to 2018, according to the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama).
The Herald reported last month that civilians who worked with the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) - who in May ended its 20-year involvement in a far-off conflict that cost 10 Kiwi lives and $300 million - have fled Bamyan and have gone into hiding in remote mountain areas, crossed borders into other districts, or sought safety in Kabul.
Although New Zealand has resettled 44 former Afghan interpreters and employees, along with 96 immediate family members since 2012-13, many others have had immigration applications declined in recent months.
But today, as the security situation worsens, it appears the New Zealand Government is reviewing its stance on their cases.
When Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi was asked this afternoon what was being done to help those who worked with the NZDF during the Afghan war, he replied: "We're looking at that."
"It's hard for us to understand exactly how many might want to apply for a pathway [to residency]... Also we have to have some discussions about the NZDF about how we might ascertain who might be eligible for it," Faafoi said.
But there were ongoing discussions on what could be possible, and ministers were grappling with what he called an "emerging issue".
It's not clear just how many Afghans could be eligible.
Defence Minister Peeni Henare said his office had been working with Faafoi in recent days.
And although cases for resettlement and residency have been rejected in the past, and it was ultimately Faafoi's decision, Henare said: "We will continue to consider them."
The NZDF has been approached for comment.
Deployments of the NNZ PRT were based in Bamyan. That was where eight lives were lost, including Lance Corporals Rory Patrick Malone and Pralli Durrer, both killed in the fierce Battle of Baghak, and a fortnight later on August 19, 2012, Corporal Luke Tamatea, 31, Lance Corporal Jacinda Baker, 26, and Private Richard Harris, 21, who all died when their Humvee hit a 20kg roadside improvised explosive device.
Many local civilians worked with the New Zealanders at Kiwi Base.
Bamyan father-of-four Basir Ahmad worked as an interpreter for several NZ PRT rotations in the 2000s, going on several dangerous patrol missions.
Speaking to the Herald last month from a secret location, Ahmad said they were surrounded by militant extremists who were "very close".
"If they find me, where I am speaking right now, they will kill me," said Ahmad who was rejected by New Zealand immigration authorities last year.
"If the Taliban comes to our area, they will slaughter all people who worked for New Zealand PRT. They are very committed to kill those people who worked with foreign troops."
Nowroz Ali, who volunteered to help at the front gate of Kiwi Base in 2010, has also managed to escape.
"There was no one left in Bamyan centre and it was about to fall ... so I escaped the village," said Ali, speaking from Kabul.
"I managed to get out, but it is shocking. On the highway from Bamyan [to Kabul], for 5 to 10km, you could see Taliban everywhere. If they stop you, search you, they put your finger on a biometric machine – they have that now - and they will find everything on you. And what will happen to you and your family? Your head will be cut off."
Major (Retired) Craig Wilson, who was the senior officer during the Battle of Baghak, New Zealand's biggest combat battle since Vietnam, believes New Zealand has a moral responsibility for their safety, even after we've gone.
"These people have been seen and worked with our own troops and that should count for something," Wilson said earlier.
"To me, that's the ultimate in hands-off, overly-bureaucratic behaviour, which really frustrates me as someone who served and could vouch for these guys. They are partners of our country in some shape or form, and I believe they should get better treatment than they do.
"It wouldn't hurt our country either, it would actually benefit us to have them here because they're bloody good people."