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Key to assess Afghan interpreter risk

Monday 8 Oct 2012 6:03 p.m.

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By Tova O'Brien

Prime Minister John Key says he won't close the door on Afghan interpreters who say their lives are at risk after working with New Zealand troops.

Twenty-six interpreters work with the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Bamiyan. They say the Taliban will target them as soon as the troops pull out.

When the PRT leaves Afghanistan in April next year, they are planning to leave behind the interpreters. But Mr Key wants to be certain the risk is as bad as has been presented before he welcomes them here.

“We just need to assess the risks – whether the risks are real and genuine to them,” says Mr Key. “We need to work through the issue and see what it might all mean. I'm not closing the door to them.”

But by opening the door at all, New Zealand First says it could be impossible to close again.

“Well they will have effectively jumped the UN queue for a start,” says Winston Peters. “The second thing is they will be bringing hundreds of thousands as well with them. That’s the previous model.”

“They'd have to bring in their wider family,” says Mr Key. “I don't know how far that would go.”

The interpreters and their families would come here under the UN quota, which resettles 750 refugees each year.

“They've been seen to be working for us, in their eyes traitors to the Taliban cause,” says Labour Foreign Affairs spokesman Phil Goff. “If we don't help them, undoubtedly some of those people will die.”

Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman is drawing up a proposal for Cabinet, which will address all the pros and cons of resettling the interpreters here. But New Zealand troops leave in five months – not a lot of time for a decision as complicated as this one.

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