January 16, 2013
Mourners next to the coffins of their relatives, who were killed in deadly bombings in Quetta last week. Picture: AP Source: AP
HAZARA leaders in Australia and Pakistan have called for Canberra to ease restrictions on asylum-seekers and those with pending family reunion visas after 92 people, reportedly including Australians, were killed in one of the deadliest attacks on the ethnic minority.
Hazara community sources confirmed one Australian resident was killed and an Australian citizen from Adelaide was seriously injured, and there are unconfirmed reports of at least two other Australian citizens or residents killed in Thursday night’s blast in Pakistan, which targeted a snooker hall in one of two Hazara enclaves in Quetta, Balochistan.
A second bomb hidden in a stolen ambulance killed at least a dozen more people who rushed to the scene to aid the victims. Another 200 were severely injured.
An Australian Hazara woman is believed to have lost her bridegroom in the attack, six weeks after travelling to the violent Balochistan capital for her wedding.
A spokesperson for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it had no news on Australian deaths and was seeking further information.
Brisbane-based Hazara spokesman Hassan Ghulam said the government must acknowledge the degree of persecution suffered by Hazaras and address the thousands of stalled family reunion applications under its new policy.
“Among these people who died there would be a large number who were being sponsored by relatives in Australia. Now they’re gone,” Mr Ghulam said.
“They know the severity of the problem, they know Hazaras are defenceless and have no protector but the world is closing its eyes to what is happening there.
“What happened in Bali (the 2002 bombings) is a black page in Australia’s history and everybody in Australia still mourns that, but these things regularly happen to our people.”
Australian Hazara Federation deputy chairman Riz Wakil said a number of those killed had been waiting for years for their applications to be processed to join family already settled in Australia.
“As far as I know there were five Australian residents or citizens killed or injured in the blast, and so many other people who were waiting for their reunion applications to be processed,” Mr Wakil said.
The Australian Hazara community has staged protests in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in recent days, urging the government to increase its assistance to the persecuted Afghan ethnic minority, which began migrating to Pakistan in the 19th century following a mass slaughter by an Afghan ruler, and again under the Taliban.
In Quetta, thousands of Hazaras blocked the streets for four days and refused to bury their dead, ending their protest in sub-zero conditions only when Pakistan’s government agreed on Monday to sack the provincial administration, which presided over a sharp escalation in targeted killings of Shia Muslim Hazaras. But few believe a change in government will end the violence against Hazaras by Sunni Muslim extremists, deemed responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Hazaras in the past five years.
Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which claimed responsibility for Thursday’s bombing, has vowed to continue its deadly campaign.
In Quetta the bombings have heightened the sense of terror among the 500,000-strong Hazara community, which has been cowed into just two ethnic enclaves: Alamdar Road in the East and Hazara Town in the west.
Mechid TV founder and Hazara Nation website moderator Altaf Hussain Safdari said by phone from Quetta the fact terrorists had been able to infiltrate one of two suburbs considered safe for Hazaras had shaken the community.
“No one thought the terrorists could come to this place. Everyone wants to leave this country and find somewhere safe,” he said.
“The Australian government and all those countries who take refugees should take notice of this bombing and put aside yearly quotas for Hazaras.
“How much more evidence (of persecution) do they need? How many more Hazara people must die before they believe us?”