New Zealand will send a special representative to the Middle East to help extract more than 1000 New Zealanders and visa holders stranded in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced on Thursday the representative would lead discussions with countries that neighbour Afghanistan and help other New Zealand staff verify people who have crossed borders out of the country.
We are focused on the second phase of our response in Afghanistan. This means working through the financial, legal, health and security challenges that Afghan nationals who try to travel will face, as well as the practical realities of travelling to New Zealand in a global pandemic, Mahuta said, in a statement.
The representative has not yet been appointed. National Party foreign affairs spokesman Gerry Brownlee said the Government needed to move with haste.
Taliban fighters escort women's march in support of the Taliban government outside Kabul University, Afghanistan, in September.
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We need to move fairly quickly. We dont have any diplomatic presence in the region at the moment. Weve got no-one in Pakistan, weve got limited representation in other Middle Eastern jurisdictions, he said.
The statement issued by Mahutas office did not name a country in which they would be based, or when the representative would leave for the region. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) last week confirmed it had sent more staff into the region to help with the ongoing response.
The detail of the second phase of the effort to evacuate New Zealand citizens, residents and visa holders from Afghanistan came after weeks of deliberations within the Government.
The Defence Force managed to airlift 393 people out of Afghanistans capital, Kabul, during an initial evacuation that was launched in the days after the Taliban took control in August.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta has appointed a diplomat to oversee ongoing extraction of New Zealanders and visa holders from Afghanistan.
Mahuta, in the statement, said a further 35 people had made it to New Zealand since then.
The Government had, since the initial evacuation, granted hundreds of visas for Afghans who are close family members of New Zealanders, or helped New Zealands military, police, aid work, or the Operation Burnham inquiry, during the two decades of conflict in the country.
At the latest tally, there were 1253 visas granted, and more than 970 were in Afghanistan. MFAT had also estimated, in late-August, that more than 100 New Zealand citizens and permanent residents remained in the country.
Among visas granted were nearly 500 for Afghans who had supported the Defence Force in Afghanistan, and their family members. However, not one of these visa holders had been evacuated during the airlift in August.
While we cant go into specifics of individual visas granted given privacy and security considerations, I can note that while granting visas ministers supported members of the judiciary, human rights workers and prominent women who required assistance, and we have supported visas like this in a number of cases, Mahuta said, in the statement.
I am appointing a Special Representative for Afghanistan to support our efforts on the ground and work closely with our partners to secure onward travel out of the region and on to New Zealand.
This operation is highly dependent on multilateral cooperation with like-minded partners and countries neighbouring Afghanistan who have borne the brunt of those fleeing the Taliban.
The Government continued to consider using its refugee quota to bring Afghans to New Zealand on humanitarian grounds.
Brownlee said it was important to have a go-to person in the region to re-build connections in the effort.
"It's clearly not going to be a diplomatic niceties deal. We don't have formal recognition of the Taliban government, and so any communications that we might have that might facilitate these people moving out safely is going to have to be done through parties that do have those connections.
Or through some kind of private security arrangement and that's got its risks, and so we need to have someone who's right over the top of all that stuff.
Brownlee said he hoped the Government had a plan beyond appointing a representative.
- For supporting MFAT in Afghanistan: 272 (arrived in New Zealand, 50)
- For supporting the Defence Force in Afghanistan: 495 (arrived in New Zealand, 0)
- For supporting the Operation Burnham inquiry: 54 (arrived in New Zealand, 6)
- For supporting the New Zealand police in Afghanistan: 13 (arrived in New Zealand, 0)
- Visas granted by the associate minister of immigration: 105 (arrived in New Zealand, 11)
- Critical purpose visas granted to close family members of New Zealanders, or visas issued on evacuation: 314 (arrived in New Zealand, 213)
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