The Government has instructed New Zealand citizens stranded in Afghanistan to stay away from Kabul’s international airport due to the risk of a terror attack.
The Defence Force has been evacuating New Zealand citizens, their families, and Afghan allies who assisted New Zealand during two decades of conflict in Afghanistan, after the Taliban took over the country 10 days ago.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (Mfat) issued a statement on Thursday saying New Zealand citizens had told not to attempt to reach Kabul’s airport, which has been besieged by desperate crowds hoping to escape, due to a “very high threat of terrorist attack”.
Mfat has also said it would no longer take resettlement applications for Afghans at risk of Taliban reprisals, as withdrawal from Kabul’s international airport looks “imminent”.
A Defence Force Hercules on its first flight out of Kabul’s international airport as part of a coalition effort to evacuate foreign citizens and Afghans at risk following the Taliban’s takeover.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Thursday said the evacuation effort always had a “very short window … but we have done the best we can to maximise the time that we had”.
“It will be clear at the conclusion of this mission, that every country will have some people they weren’t able to bring out. And most of us, of course, will then look to what the next steps need to be.”
A New Zealand citizen, who Stuff has agreed not to name for her security, on Thursday failed once again to reach Kabul airport, as she was pushed back by the Taliban.
On Wednesday afternoon, Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour, commander of Joint Forces New Zealand, said there was a risk that ISIS-K, an offshoot of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) which opposes the Taliban, would launch an explosive attack on the airport.
“ISIS-K is a threat, we would be paying close attention to their ability to be able to conduct low sophistication, but highly visible mass-casualty events around the airport.”
Gilmour said, as of Wednesday afternoon, there had been “about 200” on New Zealand’s list evacuated so far.
A Defence Force Hercules made a third trip into Kabul on Wednesday afternoon, according to an online flight tracker.
Mfat has in the past week been urgently processing resettlement applications from Afghan nationals who claim they are at risk due to former employment or a connection with the Defence Force, police, aid programmes, or the Operation Burnham inquiry.
“Given the rapidly deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, and a diminishing window for evacuations, New Zealand is no longer accepting applications from Afghan nationals for resettlement in New Zealand,” an Mfat statement issued on Thursday morning said.
25.08.2021 Defence Force supplied pictures. An Defence Force Hercules on its first flight into Kabul’s international airport as part of an coalition effort to evacuate foreign citizens and Afghans at risk of the Taliban’s takeover. A crowd of evacuees board a Defence Force Hercules in Kabul, Afghanistan, as part of an effort to airlift out New Zealand citizens, their families, visa holders, and Afghans under threat after the Taliban took over the country.
“There have been, and continue to be, huge challenges to managing the evacuation of New Zealanders, their families and eligible Afghan nationals from Kabul.
“The imminent withdrawal of the US from [Kabul’s] Hamid Karzai International Airport … means that our ability to help individuals on the ground is very limited. We cannot guarantee that we will be able to assist all those we are seeking to evacuate.”
The evacuation of New Zealand citizens, permanent residents, and their families continued with the “utmost urgency”.
Mfat officials have been unwilling to say how many Afghan nationals have been granted visas under the criteria set by the Government.
A spokesman for Immigration Minister Kris Faafoi said some visas had been granted. Stuff has been told by some Afghans who applied that they received visas in the past day.
“A number of individuals and family groups have been brought home from Afghanistan to New Zealand, and more eligible people are safely in transit after flying out of Kabul,” the Mfat statement said.
Last week, after the Taliban claimed Kabul, Ardern said the Government would look to evacuate Afghan nationals who worked in various capacities for New Zealand, were put at risk for this work, and would not be taken by another allied country.
In New Zealand, multiple people who were trying urgently to help evacuate Afghans they believed matched the criteria set by the Government told Stuff officials running the ad-hoc process appeared swamped, slow, overly cautious, or uncertain about how the criteria should be applied.
None were willing to speak on the record, as their efforts were ongoing.
US President Joe Biden on Tuesday rebuffed requests from allies to extend the deployment of thousands of troops to Kabul’s airport, and the commander of New Zealand’s mission said he expected the international forces would have already begun to withdraw.
The Mfat statement said officials were in discussion with partner governments about “potential next steps” and how the Government “can best assist and support Afghan nationals in other ways”.