New Zealand cuts off applications for Afghans to resettle here

New Zealand won't be accepting any more applications from Afghan nationals to resettle in New Zealand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) citing the "rapidly deteriorating situation" and lack of time left before the August 31 deadline.

"Our priority for this mission was always a time-sensitive one; to evacuate New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and those at risk due to their association with New Zealand via the criteria set by Cabinet," the ministry said in a statement on Thursday morning.

The deadline for Western forces to withdraw personnel from the war-torn nation is August 31, and the Taliban have given no signs they're willing to budge. The US has evacuated more than 70,000 people so far, including members of NATO allies and some Afghan nationals. 

The Taliban took control of the capital Kabul earlier this month, bringing an end to nearly 20 years of Western involvement following the 9/11 attacks in 2001. 

"There have been, and continue to be, huge challenges to managing the evacuation of New Zealanders, their families and eligible Afghan nationals from Kabul," MFAT said. 

"The imminent withdrawal of the US from Hamid Karzai International Airport, which has been critical to sustain our operations in Kabul, 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… 

"While our focus remains on getting as many people out of Kabul as possible via the current available route for the short amount of time possible, we are discussing with partners potential next steps and how the New Zealand Government can best assist and support Afghan nationals in other ways.

"We continue to work with the utmost urgency with our close partners to assist New Zealand citizens, permanent residents and their immediate families in Afghanistan, to return to New Zealand.”

Applications received before 11:59pm on Wednesday (NZ time) will still be considered, the ministry said.

New Zealand sent 80 personnel and a C-130 Hercules aircraft to assist efforts with partner nations to get Kiwis home and re-locate those who assisted our country during our troops' deployment in Afghanistan. 

The first group of New Zealand citizens returned on Monday afternoon while our Hercules made its first airlift of evacuees from Kabul on Tuesday.

MFAT said the "situation in Afghanistan deteriorating much faster than originally thought".

The Taliban has sought to keep Afghans in the country, saying their expertise and skills are needed, blocking roads to Hamid Karzai International Airport. 

"Outside of the gates, we have almost no control over what the Taliban does in regards to access. So, yes, that is a worrying development," Rear Admiral Jim Gilmour, the Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, told The AM Show on Wednesday.

The Taliban has said if foriegn forces aren't out by August 31, they will "fight to our last breath" to get rid of them. 

On Monday, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she couldn't promise everyone would be evacuated.

"The window to evacuate people out of Afghanistan is, unfortunately, very limited, and despite our ongoing efforts we cannot guarantee we can assist all those who are seeking to evacuate.

"We are monitoring the situation and continue to work urgently with our international partners for the safe return of New Zealanders and those who have supported New Zealand."

Two US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters overnight there was growing concern Islamic State could be plotting suicide bombings in the area around the airport.

The UN human rights chief said there were reports of human rights abuses being carried out by the Taliban, including executions of civilians. And the UN World Food Programme said hundreds of millions of dollars in aid was needed to fend off famine brought on by "several years of drought, conflict, economic deterioration, compounded by COVID". Vaccinations against the viral disease have reportedly fallen 80 percent in recent weeks. 

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