Fall of Afghanistan: New Zealand Government's 'phase two' evacuation plans to be considered by Cabinet

By Kurt Bayer

Plans to try and evacuate the remaining New Zealand passport and visa holders stuck in troubled Afghanistan will be considered by Cabinet next week, it's understood.

The Government has been working on "phase two" evacuation plans after mercy missions were cut short last month after two deadly suicide attacks outside Hamid Karzai International Airport at the country's capital, Kabul.

There are around 365 people with links to New Zealand are still in Afghanistan, where the Minister of Foreign Affairs (Mfat says the situation remains "highly volatile and dangerous" and the threat of a terrorist attack "very high".

The Herald understands that "phase two" evacuation proposals will go before Cabinet next week.

While the NZDF got many people out of Afghanistan, there are many who have been stuck in the troubled country. Photo / NZDF

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) says it has been working with other agencies to give the Government "advice on options regarding the Government's humanitarian response to the situation in Afghanistan, including in relation to those who have been evacuated as part of the emergency response and people remaining in Afghanistan or displaced by the conflict".

Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta said the Government was in "close contact with partners" to find ways of getting people out.

"The situation in Afghanistan is unstable and complex," she said.

Qatar Airways last week flew around 100 passengers on the first commercial international plane from Kabul since the US withdrawal at the end of August.

But Mahuta believes, at present, there are no commercial flights leaving Kabul airport.

"We continue to monitor the situation in Afghanistan very closely," she said today.

The Taliban this week told the Herald that they wouldn't stand in their way.

"If they have proper travel documents like passports and visas, they can travel," a Taliban spokesman said.

A total of 387 people with eligibility to enter New Zealand, and who were evacuated from Kabul airport by New Zealand and Australian defence forces, have made it into the country.

An RNZAF C130 landed in Kabul three times and safely evacuated a number of New Zealanders and Australians. Photo / NZDF

Mfat last week told the Herald it was still "exploring options" to best help visa holders who remain in Afghanistan.

"But with no New Zealand diplomatic presence in Afghanistan and given the complex situation in Afghanistan, the ability to provide assistance in the current environment is severely limited," an Mfat spokeswoman said.

Some former NZDF interpreters and other Afghan civilians who worked with New Zealand forces during two decades of war are still sitting tight, having been granted visas to leave, but couldn't get out before US and other Nato forces left last month.

The option of going overland and crossing land borders into neighbouring countries is understood to have been explored.

But Mfat has warned that travel throughout Afghanistan remains "extremely dangerous".

"Some borders are closed or may close without notice," the spokeswoman said.

"Border crossing is risky and dangerous. New Zealanders remaining in Afghanistan should carefully consider the risks of attempting to leave by any route.

"Any New Zealand citizens, permanent residents or visa holders who manage to leave Afghanistan over land borders should make themselves known to the closest New Zealand High Commission, Embassy, or Consulate General."

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