South-East Asian migrant crisis: Claims up to 200 dead with 14 people, including seven children, dead before boat turned around by navies

May 17, 2015 | ABC News

Rohingyas at Langsa, Aceh, showing their UNHCR refugee cards

PHOTO: Rohingyas including Muhammad Rafique (right) at Langsa, Aceh, show their UNHCR refugee cards.(ABC News: George Roberts)

Migrants and refugees who spent months at sea and found help in Indonesia’s Aceh province claim up to 200 people died on the journey with 14 people, including seven children, dying before the boat was turned around by both the Indonesian and Malaysian navies.

The 677 survivors were rescued by Indonesian fishermen and brought ashore last Thursday.

It has since emerged that Rohingyas and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh were involved in onboard violence that left seven people dead, as food and water supplies ran out.

The migrants claimed many passengers died by drowning either when they fell overboard or when the boat began to take on water.

It is impossible to verify the accuracy of some of the claims due to the language barriers.

There are differing accounts of the onboard violence with accusations being made by ethnic groups who admit to the clashes but blame each other for starting them.

Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.

A 21-year-old Rohingya man, Muhammad Rafique, who already has UN Refugee Status, said the Bengalis were the aggressors.

“Bengali … they said, you are Rohingya, they kill us, they kill us by the knife, by the hammer,” he said.

But Bengali Mohammad Abdur Rahim, 23, said it was the Rohingyas who started it.

“Myanmar people do not give us any food, any water, they are torturing [us] every day,” he said.

Boat turned away from Indonesian, Malaysian waters

The clashes seem to have occurred after the asylum seekers left the waters off Thailand and were then abandoned by the people smugglers and the ship’s captain.

According to the passengers:

  • Three to four boats left Bangladesh and Myanmar up to two months ago
  • Off the coast of Thailand, smugglers transferred them all to a larger boat
  • At least some of the smugglers, and the captain, abandoned ship
  • The passengers, without training or guidance, attempted to reach Malaysia
  • As food and water ran out, violent clashes broke out, leaving seven dead
  • Another seven children reportedly died during the voyage
  • Last week they reached Indonesian waters
  • The Indonesian Navy gave them some supplies but turned them towards Malaysia
  • The Malaysian Navy also gave them supplies and turned them away
  • Some claim 100-200 people drowned in the entire ordeal, but this can not be verified
  • Indonesian fishermen rescued 677 people from the boat on Thursday

From what those on board who can speak English say, three to four boats left from Bangladesh and Myanmar weeks ago.

Off the Thai coast, the smugglers then transferred them all to one bigger boat, and later abandoned them.

Last week they reached Indonesian waters but were rejected by the Indonesian navy.

Indonesia’s foreign ministry spokesman, Arrmanatha Nasir, conceded the navy had contact with a boat on Tuesday but said the people wanted to get to Malaysia so Indonesia gave them fuel, food and water.

Indonesia’s military spokesman Fuad Basya told the ABC the navy escorted them out of Indonesian waters.

Mr Abdur Rahim said the Indonesian navy took them to Malaysian waters.

Major General Basya told the ABC: “It’s the military’s responsibility to protect the country’s territory”.

He added the navy would keep turning asylum seeker boats away unless directed otherwise.

Once the boat reached Malaysian waters, the passengers met a similar response.

The navy again provided supplies but refused entry to Malaysian waters.

The boat, adrift at sea with no port of destination, began taking on water.

It was Acehnese fishermen who rescued the 677 Rohingya asylum seekers and Bangladeshis and brought them to Langsa.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he supported regional countries taking action to stop people smuggling boats by turning them around and stood by the Australian Government doing the same.

“I don’t apologise in any way for the action that Australia has taken to preserve safety at sea by turning boats around where necessary and if other countries choose to do that, frankly, that is almost certainly absolutely necessary.”

Rescued asylum seeker receives medical treatment in Aceh

PHOTO: Rescued migrants receive medical treatment upon their arrival in the fishing town of Kuala Langsa in Aceh province.(AFP: Chaideer Mahyuddin)

‘They were on the sea for four months, no food, no bedding’

Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished. A number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips.

Dr Iqbal Foriza, who is co-ordinating medical provision at the makeshift refugee camp, said 25 people were admitted to hospital with their bodies having gone into shock from the ordeal.

“The worst is heavy shock. They were on the sea for four months, no food, no clean food, no bedding, that made the people dehydrated, and caused trauma,” Dr Iqbal said.

On a military camp bed last night, a Bangladeshi woman fanned her three-year-old daughter to keep away mosquitoes, which can be deadly in Indonesia.

The tiny girl was still hooked up to a drip, but Dr Foriza said she was being monitored every three hours.

The ordeal had some people rethinking their plans to get to Malaysia.

“We [want to] go back to Bangladesh immediately. Please help,” Mr Abdur Rahim said.

Muhammad Rafique, a Rohingya, still wanted to get to Australia via Malaysia, with the help of people smugglers.

“First time I will go Malaysia, I will [collect] some money, pay the broker. After I go to Australia to study,” he said.

When the ABC asked him if he knew Australia did not accept people who came by boat he did not understand.

Young rescued Rohingya asylum seeker in the dome tent

PHOTO: Many of those on board were dehydrated and malnourished and a number are still taking fluids through intravenous drips. (ABC News: George Roberts)

Australia urged to help ease crisis by taking more refugees

Australia’s former ambassador to Thailand and Indonesia John McCarthy said Australia could not just be a witness to the crisis and needed to significantly increase its refugee intake.

“It is a major gesture,” he said.

“We are a country that can afford to take refugees and it has to be bipartisan. If this is not bipartisan we’re not going to get it up.

“The only prospect I can see of Australia playing a constructive role is by saying that we will actually increase our intake of refugees above the 12,000-odd we take currently to a much larger number.”

Malaysia said its foreign minister would meet with his Indonesian and Thai counterparts to discuss the crisis.

Foreign minister Anifah Aman was to meet Indonesia’s Retno Marsudi in the Malaysian city of Kota Kinabalu on Monday, a government official said.

That would be followed by separate talks between Mr Anifah and Thai foreign minister Tanasak Patimapragorn later in the week, “most probably on Wednesday”.

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-17/migrant-refugee-crisis-south-east-asia-in-numbers/6476160

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Teenage refugees take to the stage to share stories of plight, change audience perceptions in Sydney

May 10, 2015 | ABC News

Young refugees are sharing their stories of war-torn Iraq and Syria, through theatre performances in the hope it will ease the trauma of their ordeal as well as educate the Sydney community.

The Tree of Life performance from Treehouse Theatre group at the Casula Powerhouse has designed a production to help the teenagers share their experiences.

Among the group of young refugees is Simon Oshana, who fled to Lebanon from Syria in 2012, before being granted refugee status in Australia.

Simon, 16, said he was 13-years-old and his life changed forever while playing soccer with his friends in the village of Tel Nasri in north-eastern Syria.

I thought ‘it’s easy, they just come here by boat, get a visa’ but no – it’s totally different.

Aisha Hawli, student from the Australian International Academy

He said rockets fired by rebel forces, ravaged the village.

“I saw the planes and rockets and everything,” he said. “They were so close to me.”

The 13-year-old ran for cover and found his cousin Nino had been killed in the attack.

“They brought him to the hospital and he was dead,” Simon said.

“I saw him in front of me lying down with all his body injured and blood all over his body.

“I’m still living that nightmare.”

‘1000-year-old village bombed into oblivion’

Last month, Simon learned that the ancient Assyrian town where he grew up, was destroyed by the Islamic State militants.

“My 1000-year-old village was bombed into nothing, bombed into oblivion,” he said in the performance.

Two weeks ago, the 16-year-old said he found out on Facebook that his best friend was killed while fighting with Kurdish Peshmerga and Assyrian forces against IS.

“I didn’t believe it, I straight away messaged his brother and he said ‘it’s true’,” he said.

“It was a shock to me to see my best friend, who sat next to me in the school for many years, to see his picture on Facebook, dead.”

Simon said he used the theatre production to share experiences that he previously struggled to express.

“At the beginning, I didn’t tell anyone my story… I wasn’t that brave to tell my story because I’d cry straight away,” he said.

“Now I can control my story and tell it easily to the people.”

Iraqi sisters Athmar, 14, and Asrar Habeb, 16, fled Iraq with their family in 2013 after their cousin was kidnapped.

But they said the Tree of Life theatre production has helped with getting through their trauma.

“I feel good [that] the things that are in my heart, [go] out to people,” Athmar said.

“They know my stories.”

Audience perception of refugees’ plight changed

Audience member Aisha Hawli who is a student at the Australian International Academy said the performance changed her attitude towards refugees.

“It really showed you that refugees go through a lot more than us having been born in Australia and having a better life,” she said.

“I thought ‘it’s easy, they just come here by boat, get a visa’ but no – it’s totally different.”

Other school students praised the performers for their bravery in sharing their stories.

“If that were to be me in those situations, I don’t think I’d be courageous as they were,” Gabriella Prude from Miller Technology High School said.

“I can’t even imagine going through the things they’ve gone through.”

Marcello Ralph from the same school said “it was really emotional” and “it’s just a really eye-opening experience for everyone in this theatre”.

Dr Ken Edge, principal of Miller Technology High School, thanked the performers publicly at the end of the performance.

“Your stories are amazing, they challenge our beliefs,” he said.

Performance helps heal trauma

Ruth Hartcher-O’Brien, artistic director of Treehouse Theatre, said it was difficult for the performers to open up as their experiences are raw and ongoing.

“It’s bad enough telling stories of trauma that have happened previously,” she said.

“Horrible, sad deaths, kidnappings, bombings and you leave it and you come to a new life in Australia.

“But these stories where they’re in Australia and they’re still experiencing [trauma] and their families are still experiencing deaths, kidnappings and the sweep of [the Islamic State].”

Ms Hartcher-O’Brien said the drama program was designed to help the teenagers control their emotions through theatre.

The reaction they get from the audience just feeds their soul.

Catherine Maguire-Donvito, co-directer and counsellor

“They’ve got some control, but the actual telling of it is heartbreaking,” she said.

“They sob and sob in those first sessions when we’re gathering their stories.

“They still tell their stories through their tears to all these audience members and they’re actually crying.”

Co-director and school counsellor Catherine Maguire-Donvito said the teenagers learn to juggle mixed emotions.

“It’s really important for the kids to understand you can be happy and sad at the same time,” she said.

“You don’t have to be scared of the powerful and negative feelings.”

She said the performers’ involvement allowed them to feel a sense of significant accomplishment.

“The reaction they get from the audience just feeds their soul,” Ms Maguire-Donvito said.

“It is just a joyful experience for them and that’s what it’s all about.”

Source: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-10/refugees-take-to-the-stage-to-share-stories/6456402

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Judge blocks deportation flight for rejected Afghan asylum-seekers

April 25, 2015 | the guardian

Charter flight due to depart on Tuesday night cancelled after warning by Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation that 80% of country is not safe to return to.

Afghan security personnel at the scene of a suicide attack in Jalalabad. A high court judicial review is due to take place on whether deportations to Afghanistan remain safe in view of the worsening security situation

Afghan security personnel at the scene of a suicide attack in Jalalabad. A high court judicial review is due to take place on whether deportations to Afghanistan remain safe in view of the worsening security situation Photograph: Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images

A charter flight which was due to depart on Tuesday night with dozens of Afghan asylum-seekers facing removal from Britain has been cancelled on the orders of an appeal court judge.

Lady Justice Rafferty blocked the flight ahead of a high court judicial review due on Wednesday on whether deportations to parts of Afghanistan remain safe in view of the deteriorating security situation.

The decision to postpone the charter flight of 56 rejected Afghan asylum-seekers, which was due to leave at 11.30pm on Tuesday, follows warnings to European countries by the Afghan minister for refugees and repatriation that 80% of the country was not safe to send people back to.

It also follows a separate ruling by a high court judge ordering the Home Office to arrange for a deported migrant family to be returned to Britain from Nigeria.

In an unusual step an immigration judge, Mr Justice Cranston, 10 days ago ordered the Home Office to find the mother and her five-year-old son and bring them back to Britain by Thursday.

He said in the “special circumstances” of the case the home secretary had failed to have regard for the best interests of the child, known only as RA, as a primary consideration in sending him back to Nigeria with his 45-year-old mother.

The judge said the Home Office had adopted a “careful and proactive” approach to the child’s interests in contacting the school and involving the [UK Border Agency’s] children’s champion and the independent family returns panel [which advises the Home Office on meeting welfare needs of children in families to be removed].

But he said they had not taken into account the implications of his mother’s degenerating mental health and the likely consequences for the child of sending them back to Nigeria together.

A Home Office attempt to overturn the ruling demanding the return of the mother and son from Nigeria was rejected at an appeal court hearing on Wednesday. “The tribunal was fully entitled to take the decision it did,” said the judge. The pair are due to arrive in London on a flight from Nigeria on Thursday.

The Home Office confirmed that the scheduled charter flight of Afghan deportees had not left on Tuesday night but refused to comment further on the case.

Lawyers for the Afghan deportees were expected to argue at a judicial review hearing on Wednesday that Britain could not safely return deportees to Afghanistan due to the security situation, which has deteriorated since allied forces started pulling out of the country.

They claim that nowhere outside of Kabul could be considered safe enough to send people back to and the Afghan capital did not have the infrastructure to look after vulnerable people who have been deported from Europe. The legal challenge is effectively pressing for the official Foreign Office country guidance for Afghanistan to be rewritten.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/22/judge-blocks-deportation-flight-for-rejected-afghan-asylum-seekers

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Cautions for Australians, Lies for Refugees | Cambodia Resettlement

April 23, 2015 | the diplomat

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - JUNE 22 : Unidentified protester holding anti government immigration policy sign whilst attending World Refugee Rally June 22, 2014 in Brisbane, Australia

Australia is pulling out all stops to convince asylum seekers to take the Cambodia option.

A tropical paradise or a place where foreigners risk serious danger and hardships? When it comes to refugees, the Australian government has been acting like a used car salesman trying to peddle a sale – or in this case, a one-way ticket to Cambodia. Australia has been pulling out all the stops to convince refugees from Nauru to take a charter flight to Cambodia, which could leave as early as this week.

A letter that Australian officials recently sent to refugees on the island of Nauru, obtained by the Guardian, claims that, “Cambodia is a safe country, where police maintain law and order. It does not have problems with violent crime or stray dogs. Cambodians enjoy all the freedoms of a democratic society including freedom of religion and freedom of speech.”

But that’s not what the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is telling Australians. Its travel advice for its own citizens has this to say: “Opportunistic crime is common in Cambodia… Assaults and armed robberies against foreigners have occurred, and foreigners have been seriously injured and killed… Banditry and extortion, including by military and police personnel, continue in some rural areas… Australians should avoid all political gatherings, protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent. Local police and security forces have responded with force on occasion.”

For its part, Khmer-language media in Cambodia are reporting an upsurge in violent crime, aimed particularly at foreigners, which it says the government is unable or unwilling to address.

Why is the Australian government telling its own citizens the truth, while telling refugees a pack of lies? Simple. The government has sent more than 800 asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia by boat to Nauru for resettlement and refugee processing. It’s now trying to get some of those found to be refugees to go to Cambodia. It is desperate to implement its A$40 million ($31.1 million) deal with Cambodia to send refugees there so it can show that it has not trapped them forever on Nauru.

To its credit, Cambodia has insisted that only refugees who consent to go to Cambodia will be accepted, and up until now, no one has been willing to go. So now Canberra is resorting to deception to persuade some of them to take up the offer.

The reality is that Cambodia is an extremely poor country with no safety net. There are few social services for Cambodian citizens, let alone foreigners. The Australian government letter touts Cambodia’s healthcare system as being “of a good quality for the region,” but it’s not even equipped to meet the needs of most Cambodians, much less refugees. Mental health treatment is virtually non-existent, though Cambodia is full of people suffering the psychological effects of the Khmer Rouge period and subsequent wars and mass atrocities.

As for protecting freedom of speech, that wasn’t the experience of 10 women whose trial I observed there last November. After a three-hour show trial, the women were fined and each sentenced to a year in prison. Their crime? “Obstructing traffic” while protesting the flooding of their homes. Opposition activists and politicians are regularly arrested. The notoriously corrupt police commit abuses with impunity, while the courts run on exchanges of money.

The Australian government letter describes “jobs for migrants, and strong support networks for newly settled refugees, including opportunities to buy businesses.” But the refugees I met in November who had gone to Cambodia seeking asylum told a different story – of discrimination that makes jobs hard to get, of language barriers, and low wages that don’t even cover subsistence costs. They told me how difficult their lives were, and how they live hand to mouth.

“This is a corrupt country,” one refugee told me, when asked what advice he would give to the people on Nauru. “You will not find jobs. We have been here more than two years and we have no money and not enough to eat. It’s better to wait in Nauru. It is a very, very bad life here in Cambodia. There is no future.”

So who will look after refugees traumatized by the persecution in their home countries, perilous boat journeys, long periods in detention, and the shock of being dropped into a completely unknown culture without being able to speak the local language?

Refugees on Nauru already have a difficult life with squalid conditions and abuses in detention, and limited job prospects and a lack of safety for those released into the community. But they are understandably fearful of making a new life for themselves in Cambodia where respect for human rights depends on who you are, where you come from, and who you know. Needless to say, foreigners fleeing war and repression are likely to start at the bottom of that pecking order.

Australia should end its sick joke of pretending Cambodia is a safe country for refugees. It’s unconscionable to lie to people who have already suffered so much and to put them in further danger. The right thing to do would be to close the camps on Nauru and Manus Island once and for all, and allow those found to be refugees the chance to start their lives over in Australia, a paradise or not.

Elaine Pearson is Australia director at Human Rights Watch

Source: http://thediplomat.com/2015/04/cautions-for-australians-lies-for-refugees/

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Cambodia says no refugee arrivals imminent, contradicting Peter Dutton

April 20, 2015 | theguardian

Refugees on Nauru protesting in early March over conditions and the Cambodia deal.

Refugees on Nauru protesting in early March over conditions and the Cambodia deal.

Spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry says a delegation left for Nauru on Monday but ‘we don’t know anyone who volunteered so far’

Cambodian officials have confirmed they are sending a delegation to Nauru to discuss settlement plans, but have said no arrivals were imminent from the island, contradicting comments by Australia’s immigration minister, Peter Dutton.

Last week letters were distributed by Australian immigration staff to refugees on Nauru offering them a settlement package in Cambodia. A spokesman for the International Organisation for Migration has confirmed it was sending an official in anticipation of movements.

Small protests have also occurred in the refugee community living on Nauru surrounding the Cambodia arrangement. One 12-year-old boy also attempted to throw himself into the ocean in an apparent attempt to self-harm.

While the transfer of refugees for settlement from Nauru to Cambodia was scheduled to leave on Monday, the move has faced delays, in part due to the arrival of Cambodian officials.

On Monday, Dutton also said there were logistical issues with officials from Cambodia. He added that if it had “forced a delay of a couple of days then so be it”.

Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for Cambodia’s interior ministry, told the Phnom Penh Post that a delegation was en route on Monday to Nauru.

But he also contradicted Dutton’s comments about the transfers, and said that no arrivals were imminent from Nauru.

“We have received a request from the embassy and [the interior minister, Sar] Kheng has already ordered the immigration department to send officials to Nauru, either [yesterday] or [today], depending on the availability of plane tickets.

“We don’t know anyone [who] volunteered so far,” he said.

Another official from the foreign ministry, Koy Kuong, said officials “were confused by the Australian side”, and the comments contained in a letter to refugees that said flights could begin as early as Monday.

Dutton told ABC radio that Australia had approached “a large number of people on Nauru” for potential resettlement.

The memorandum of understanding between Cambodia and Australia says that Cambodia will offer permanent settlement to people who have “undergone a refugee status determination process in the republic of Nauru and have been determined to be a refugee, and meet the entry and settlement requirements of the kingdom of Cambodia”.

They must be found to be refugees, have made a voluntary decision to go to Cambodia and must have their applications considered by Cambodian officials.

The settlement push for Cambodia has faced heavy criticism from human rights groups. Unicef says Australia would be violating the rights of children if transfers to Cambodia went ahead.

Source: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/apr/20/cambodia-says-no-refugee-arrivals-imminent-contradicting-peter-dutton

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Militants behead kidnapped civilians in Ghazni

April 18, 2015 

GHAZNI CITY (Pajhwok): Militants with links to little known Daish group on Friday beheaded the four civilians who were kidnapped by gunmen the other day from Ghazni City, the provincial capital of southern Ghazni province, officials said.

On Thursday, unidentified gunmen kidnapped four civilians from the Arjistan district. The abducted individuals were the residents of Malistan district who were on their way to their hometown.

Zamin Ali Hidayat, the town’s administrative chief, had said security forces had arrested Taliban Commander Mullah Abdullah along with his six of his associates during a clearing operation in Jaghori district. But in retaliation, the rebels kidnapped the civilians and were demanding prisoners swap.

Zamin Ali, the Malistan district chief, told Pajhwok Afghan News that insurgents beheaded the kidnapped men. He said militants wanted prisoners swap for the release of detained rebels.

He said that tribal elders were sent to the area to collect dead bodies of the slain persons. Ali Mohammad, a resident of the district, confirmed the abducted persons were killed today.

Source: http://www.pajhwok.com/en/2015/04/17/militants-behead-kidnapped-civilians-ghazni?hootPostID=3c03ba00a362e94ac8f275d0619652d8#sthash.5Ex2d161.dpuf

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After suffering under the Taliban, an Afghan minority faces new threats

April 10, 2015 | washingtonpost

Esmail Kayhan, 20, an ethnic Hazara holds the portrait of his father, Mohammad Jomah Amini, at their family home in Kabul. (Sudarsan Raghavan/The Washington Post)

Inside the two seized buses, terrified passengers prayed to remain in their seats. The masked gunmen had collected their identification cards and snatched their cellphones, survivors would later recall. Next, they separated males from females and Sunni Muslims from Shiite Muslims. Finally, they ordered the Shiite males — all ethnic Hazaras — off the buses.

The kidnappers then vanished into the harsh terrain of southern Zabul province with 31 men and boys, sparking concerns of a potential fresh wave of sectarian tensions in Afghanistan.

Six weeks later, their families remain in an emotional limbo.

“We don’t know what our sin is,” said Namatullah Noori, 40, after recounting what his mother, one of the surviving passengers, had told him. “From one side, they are targeting us. And from the other side, the government is not helping us.”

His 65-year-old father is among the abducted men.

In recent weeks, concerns have mounted across the nation overthe emergence of the Islamic State, the Iraq- and Syria-based Sunni movement that has violently targeted Shiites and other religious and ethnic groups. Now the events that unfolded on the buses, corroborated by Afghan officials and victims’ relatives, are fanning those fears. In interviews, Afghan officials and Hazara leaders said they suspect that a rogue Taliban faction that has sworn allegiance to the Islamic State is behind the abductions in Zabul.

For the nation’s minority Hazaras, the kidnappings, along with other recent attacks, are grim reminders of the persecution they endured under the rule of the mainly ethnic Pashtun and Sunni Taliban, which viewed Shiites as apostates. Since the abductions in late February, there have been at least three more mass kidnappings of Hazaras in three other provinces, according to Afghan officials and Hazara.net, a nonprofit Web site focused on the community’s rights and culture.

“Historically, we have struggled a lot to be accepted as normal citizens,” said Hayatullah Meheryar, 30, a Hazara activist. “But now these assaults show they want to restrict our development that we’ve achieved in the past 13 years.”

Opportunity to attack

Throughout the 20th century, successive Pashtun-led regimes in Afghanistan targeted the Hazaras, the country’s third-largest ethnic group, making up about 20 percent of the population. Also a religious minority, they were massacred and tortured. Uprisings were viciously crushed. Their religious leaders were jailed; women were abducted. Most Hazaras languished in poverty and humiliation, forced to take menial jobs.

The Taliban carried out mass executions of Hazaras and drove them from their lands and meager livelihoods. Tens of thousands of Hazaras sought refuge in frigid mountain hideouts. In the Hazara ethnic homeland of Bamian province in early 2001, the Taliban methodically destroyed two giant Buddha statues that had survived for centuries, drawing an international outcry.

Since the Taliban regime collapsed in late 2001, however, the Hazaras have experienced a communal rebirth. Many returned from exile in Iran and other countries to forge a future here. A new generation entered universities and later found jobs with the United Nations and international firms and aid agencies. Economically, many flourished. Politically, theygained more clout.

Attacks against them had grown rare. In 2011, a suicide bomber in Kabul killed 56 Shiite worshipers, mostly Hazaras, on the holy day of Ashura in the bloodiest sectarian attack of the war. Last year, gunmen in central Ghowr province executed 15 Hazara civilians traveling in a minibus.

Now, a familiar anxiety is boiling up again within the community.

Most of the Hazaras in the two buses attacked in February were returning from Iran. Some had gone there for construction or other blue-collar jobs, and others to visit relatives.

Noori’s father and mother were inside with his 17-year-old son. They had taken him for medical treatment in Iran. When the teenager saw the gunmen, he fainted. That saved his life. The gunmen left him in the vehicle after Noori’s mother pleaded for mercy. But her pleas couldn’t save her husband.

“Who else but the Taliban can be behind this?” Noori said.

The Taliban’s central command has denied responsibility for the abductions. But the insurgency has become increasingly disjointed, with many Taliban factions acting on their own. Some have become so disgruntled that they have aligned themselves with the Islamic State to gain funds and prominence, according to U.S. military commanders who view the group as a potential threat but still at an embryonic stage in Afghanistan.

Survivors of the Zabul kidnappings told authorities that the gunmen spoke local languages and appeared to be ethnic Pashtuns from their accents. That’s a reason why officials say they think that the assailants were home­grown disciples of the Islamic State, also known as Daesh.

“These are Taliban who have changed their colors,” said Ali Akbar Qaseemi, an influential ethnic Hazara parliamentarian. “Daesh’s goal is to disintegrate the nation by creating problems among ethnic groups in Afghanistan.”

For many Hazaras, the fresh threats against them reflect the vanishing U.S. and international military presence. The abductions unfolded on major highways in areas once patrolled by foreign forces. With far fewer international troops, Afghanistan’s security forces­ are straining to fill the gap. Growing portions of the country are unpoliced.

“With the foreign troops gone, the Taliban see an opportunity to attack us again,” Meheryar said.

Since the abductions in Zabul, Afghan police and security forces­ have mounted unsuccessful operations to rescue the 31 men and boys. So far, there have been no public demands from the kidnappers.

Afghan government officials have declined to provide details of the incident or the efforts to free the victims, beyond vowing to use all means necessary to find them.

“The government is working hard on this matter,” said Ajmal Obaid Abidy, spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.

‘We can’t do anything’

In the meantime, the families of the 31 men and boys have embarked on a frustrating daily quest to learn the fate of their loved ones. Some have traveled to Kabul from other cities — even from Pakistan. Each morning, they visit the offices­ of Hazara leaders and government officials. Each evening, they return home disappointed.

“No one is giving us any answers,” said Hussein Ali, 67, whose son is among the abducted. “We can’t do anything.”

“We are poor, working-class people,” Noori said. “We don’t know the influential people. We don’t have power.”

Esmail Kayhan’s family is struggling as much from the lack of knowledge as finances­. For the past year, his father had been working construction in Iran, sending money home every month. Now, he’s among the kidnapped. Kayhan’s older brother, who works in a bakery in Saudi Arabia, was forced to take a loan to help the family.

Kayhan said he is most worried about his mother, who has heart problems, and his grandmother, who is frail. He fears the shock of learning the truth could harm them. So he keeps telling them that his father is still in Iran, dealing with some last-minute business.

The other day, he said, his mother asked him: “Why does your father keep calling you? Why doesn’t he call me?”

He shrugged and said he didn’t know.

As each day passes, the Hazara community is growing angrier — and more organized. Small protests have been launched in Kabul and other parts of the country. There have also been demonstrations in Australia and Europe. On Twitter, activists have created the hashtag #Free31Hazaras, as well as a Web site: http://www.bringback31hazaras.com.au.

This week, they set up tents near the presidential palace in protest. Ali, who has been in the capital for five weeks, said he has no plans to return to his home in Quetta, Pakistan.

“I will remain in Kabul until I learn whether my son is alive or dead,” he said.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/after-suffering-under-the-taliban-an-afghan-minority-faces-new-threats/2015/04/08/035e1c4a-d71b-11e4-bf0b-f648b95a6488_story.html

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