New Zealand is no longer accepting applications from Afghan nationals for resettlement, “given the rapidly deteriorating situation” and a “diminishing window for evacuations”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade says.
An MFAT spokesperson said on Thursday morning that the New Zealand Government was “working urgently with our international partners to support New Zealanders to return safely and, over the longer term, to support the people of Afghanistan”.
As the August 31 deadline looms for the US’ withdrawal from Afghanistan, evacuations from Kabul airport have picked up the pace.
More than 82,000 people have fled the country after the Taliban took power, but the Pentagon said 10,000 people were still waiting at the airport to be evacuated.
There are fears thousands may still be left behind, as the Taliban say Afghans shouldn't go to Kabul airport or try and leave the country.
The MFAT spokesperson said the US’ imminent withdrawal from Hamid Karzai International Airport, which was “critical” in sustaining 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.”
The spokesperson said the priority was to evacuate New Zealand citizens, permanent residents, and those who assisted New Zealand forces and were at risk because of that association.
“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.
“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.”
The New Zealand Defence Force confirmed the first group of evacuees landed in New Zealand on Monday via a Royal Australian Air Force flight.
The group included New Zealand citizens, their families and other visa holders. They are currently in MIQ.
The Taliban warned the US’ airlift from Afghanistan must end by August 31 and said they wouldn’t accept an extension.
In a G7 meeting on Tuesday, US President Joe Biden confirmed the August 31 date, but had directed the Pentagon and State Department to develop plans to adjust the timeline if needed.
It’s understood British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who hosted the meeting, asked Biden to extend the deadline.