Plight of the Hazara fails to move stone hearts in Canberra

Source: The Australian

IN the world of refugees there are many deserving causes, but the Hazaras of Afghanistan and western Pakistan make up a large proportion of asylum-seekers boarding leaky boats to Australia.

The Hazaras are among the most educated of Afghan tribes and are a marked people, their distinctive Mongolian facial features a target for hatred. As the educated elite of Afghanistan, they have often found themselves the victims of discrimination and persecution and ethnically or religiously targeted assassinations.

Waves of hatred and violence have been directed against them and thousands have fled their homelands in western Afghanistan in the past 20 years as the Taliban hunted them down because of their intellect, their independence and their Shia Muslim faith.

In August 1998, in Mazar-e-Sharif, the Taliban massacred more than 2000 Hazaras in three days: many were shot in the streets or in their homes; 30 were shot in hospital beds; some were boiled to death in steel containers.
Land confiscation, mosque burnings, bombings and beheadings have been commonplace.

An estimated 500,000 Hazaras have fled to seek refuge in and around the city of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan, in the wilds of western Pakistan. But the pogroms continue.

Last year 400 mainly Hazara Shia Muslims were murdered in western Pakistan – making it possibly the bloodiest year in living memory for the Shia population of Pakistan.

This year Sunni terrorists have made good on their promise to launch attacks within Hazara neighbourhoods in Quetta if they did not flee the city by the beginning of 2013.

In January, a bomb exploded outside a Quetta billiard hall popular with the Hazara refugees. The initial blast killed several people, but, 10 minutes later, as people rushed to the aid of those wounded in the attack, a car bomb exploded just outside the club, killing dozens more.

When the dust settled, 96 people, mostly Hazara Shias, were dead. Numerous business owners in Quetta’s main markets have been shot dead in their shops.

Pilgrims going to Iran by bus have been killed by roadside bombs; ordinary citizens have been offloaded from local buses and shot dead by the side of the road.

Hazaras no longer feel safe even buying basic supplies at the city’s main vegetable market, and instead get others to do their shopping for them.

Already this year more than 230 Hazaras have been killed. Their militant Sunni attackers, the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, acknowledged by Australia as a terrorist group, have declared: “It is our religious duty to kill all Shias and to cleanse Pakistan of this impure nation. It is our mission in Pakistan that every city, village and other place, every corner be cleansed of the Shia and the Shia Hazara.”

What has this got to do with Australians? Just one example should be enough.

Said Zaher and Zahra Alawi are Hazaras who came to Australia as refugees and have been proud Australian citizens since 2007; their contribution to our community has been exemplary.

For some time, fearful of what may soon befall those still in Quetta, they have been trying to sponsor seven family members to join them here.

However, the Australian Immigration Department summarily rejected the family’s sponsorship application, claiming their relatives didn’t meet refugee criteria and that it was safe for them to stay where they were.

The department took just two days from receiving the application to say no.

It’s impossible to see how this family cannot be considered refugees under any definition. They are also potential victims of genocide by any definition.

They were persecuted by the Taliban in Afghanistan. They had their ancestral lands confiscated. They joined the Afghan army and worked with NATO forces that include Australia and have been subsequently targeted by Taliban sympathisers. Family members have been murdered in Afghanistan and now in Quetta, and their own lives have been threatened.

In the January Quetta bombing, all the windows in their home were blown in – the school their children had just returned from was destroyed.

They live a life under siege in a ghetto of death. With black humour, they say: “There is no space left in the graveyards.”

The Said Zaher and Zahra Alawi families have done the right thing by trying to use the right channels to bring their loved ones to Australia. Their sponsorship of the family members would be at no cost to the Australian taxpayer and there is a community of support waiting for them in Brisbane.

We supposedly take the issue of human rights seriously and so we should; but are these just words confounded by our lack of action? What are we saying to these people; getting on a leaky boat is worse than genocide?

Our immigration department and our immigration policies should represent the best of our values, not dishonour them.

Sue Boyce is a senator for Queensland.

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