On behalf of the World Hazara Council, I have the honor to speak to you about the situation of Hazaras in the region and the reasons they seek asylum elsewhere.
I would like to first sincerely thank the organizers of this auspicious gathering who gave me the opportunity to speak on behalf of my people.
The World Hazara Council (WHC) is an international social, non-political, cultural and non-profit umbrella organization that works for human rights and represents the interests and rights of the Hazara people around the world. We are working closely with Hazara refugees and asylum seekers who get accepted and help them in the integration in the societies they settle in and try to provide counseling in order to help relieve the suffering, anxiety and depression among those whose cases are pending.
My association with refugees dates back to the days in the late 1960’s and early 70’s when I was a student in Beirut, Lebanon and used to volunteer to help the Palestinian refugees whose lands were taken by Israel and they were forcibly ejected to seek shelter elsewhere. Later on when the Soviet Union invaded my country, Afghanistan, I myself became a refugee in Pakistan. I saw and felt first hand what it means to be a refugee to leave your home in the face of danger to you and your family and seek safety in a foreign land. In those days, people were taken to camps where they were cared for and were free to move around. Now, like the case of Hazaras seeking asylum in Australia, they are locked up behind bar in several detention centers like Balik Papan in Indonesia and treated like criminals. Seeking asylum in the face of danger to one’s life is not a crime. The bulk of the populations of the countries like the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand to name a few are made up of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants.
Why would one leave his or her country to seek shelter or asylum elsewhere? There are various reasons but in the case of Hazaras it all boils down to one main reason and that is safety and security. Three countries that the Hazaras are living in are mainly Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan. In all three, they don’t feel safe or in fact they are not safe.
In Afghanistan, the situation is more precarious than ever in post-Taliban era. The fall of the Taliban and the presence of international forces, gave hope to the Afghans that a new era has dawned and the war and suffering of the people are finally over. However, the euphoria was short lived because soon the international attention was diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq and those who wanted to keep Afghanistan in turmoil, renewed their interference and gradually the possibility of establishing a free, democratic and peaceful Afghanistan eroded and hopes and aspirations of the people eventually turned to ashes.
According to various sources that keep track of events, more than 10,000.00 people were killed and injured in 2017 in Afghanistan, making it one of the deadliest years since the civil war.
Since 2001 when the Taliban were ousted from power the Hazaras were targeted mostly on the highways leading to their region. Yearly, a large population of Pashtun nomads go to the central highland of Hazarajat to seek grazing land for their livestock. When the Hazaras resisted, the Taliban would target them on the roads to put pressure on the population. As a result the highways leading to and from their land were not safe. We lost hundreds of lives to the Terrorists. During the last four years another monster has appeared in the form ISIS in the country.
The defeat of ISIS in Syria and especially Iraq gave them an opportunity to reconsider their strategy and move to a new theater. They found a new battle ground to face off and to settle the scores that were left unfinished and unfulfilled in the Middle East. The ISIS target religious gatherings and places of worship and in numerous bombings we have lost hundreds of lives. Nowadays, Kabul and other major cities are so dangerous for our people that a person leaving his or her house is not sure whether he or she return alive. The two threats namely of Taliban and ISIS have made life extremely dangerous especially for intellectual and social activists who are constantly under threat. As a result they leave the country to seek safety elsewhere.
In Pakistan since 2011 there have een more than 1500 attacks on civilians by the extremist groups who target mainly Hazaras. More than 30% of the population have left the country in the face of danger that is really a genocide directed against Hazaras. The two Hazara enclaves in the city of Quetta in Balochistan province have become an open prison with security checkposts around them. Any person with who dare to leave the enclave is susceptible to danger and at times buses are stopped and like Afghanistan, the passengers are single out. Not a single culprit is arrested or put to jail.
The Hazaras took refuge in Iran during the war in Afghanistan and later during the Taliban and ISIS onslaught and the country hosts more than two million of Hazaras from Afghanistan and about the same number are local Hazaras who have gone there during the war of genocide in the 19th century waged by Amir Abdur Rahman. Although the Hazaras share the same sect of Islam with the Iranians, they are subject to discrimination and persecution for the wrong notion of being the descendants of Mongols from whom the Iranian suffered a crushing defeat centuries ago. Mistreatment of the Hazaras by Iranians has always been a problem for them but it rarely became a security issue. With the war in Syria and the Iranian involvement in the war, Iran seeks fighters to fight as its proxies in Syria. The Hazaras are a very good candidate for this. With the promise of residency, education for children and also a threat of deportation to Afghanistan in case they refuse, the Hazara youth are lured to go to Syria and fight for Iran. Scores of people have died in the war and a sizeable number are still there. A lot of these people who do not want to fight in Syria escape to the West where they are not treated well. The European Union with a promise of economic help to the Afghan government in effect forced it to sign an agreement to send the Hazaras to safe regions such as central Afghanistan. Nothing is far from the truth. There is no safe region least of all for the Hazaras. If Afghanistan was safe, no one in his right mind would leave the country to face the uncertainty, mistreatment, and indignity in a foreign land.
In conclusion, a few points are worth noting.
1- The Hazaras are not economic migrants to seek employment opportunities. They run away for their lives because they are not safe in their own countries.
2- They are non-violent. They haven’t had one suicide bomber ever. Not a single member of the international forces in Afghanistan has been harmed by Hazaras. So there is no threat to the security of the host country.
3- They are not fundamentalists or extremists. Of all the incidents in the West caused or carried out by foreigners, not one can be attributed to a Hazara.
4- Some countries such as Australia, Germany, the US to name a few need migrants to work in their labor markets. The Hazaras with their hard working, peaceful nature are a good candidate to fill the void.
5- Finally, I would like to appeal to UNHCR and other UN branches that deal with refugees, asylum seekers and people in need of help and support to put pressure on countries such as Indonesia to treat the asylum seekers humanely until a place is found for them. Also we ask the UNHCR to encourage countries to accept genuine refugees whose lives are in danger and not to send back people to the same slaughterhouse that they came from.
We have already lost too many lives in the seas, on the roads, and in the camps due natural causes and suicide because of uncertainty and hopelesness, we appeal to you to help save the lives of thousands of young men and women who have sold all their belongings to leave danger behind and get to safety. They live a depressed, uncertain and bleak life in the detention centers in Europe, Australia and Indonesia and their only hope is your, our and humanity’s compassion to save their lives. Thank you.
June 29, 2018