January 28, 2013
Pakistani police officers and local residents gather at the site of a bomb blast that targeted paramilitary soldiers in a commercial area in Quetta, Pakistan, killing at least 12 people and wounding more than 40 others earlier this month. Picture: Arshad Butt/AP Source: AP
LEADERS of Australia’s Hazara community are increasingly distressed and despondent over the fate of their relatives and friends.
These people are facing poverty, hunger and massacre in the besieged ghettoes of Quetta, the capital of Pakistan’s Balochistan province.
They say the city’s 500,000-strong Hazara population is being targeted by Sunni Muslim extremists andAustralia’s refugee policies are making it harder to get people out. They are right and we will hear more about this in 2013.
Spokesmen, such as Hassan Ghulam of the Australian Hazara Federation, say the situation is worsening, both in Quetta and in neighbouring Afghanistan, where the extremist Sunni Muslim Taliban is regaining control.
Taliban leaders despise the Hazara, a largely Shi’ite Muslim ethnic group with origins in central Asia, and slaughtered thousands of them in the 1990s.
As Western forces leave, a genocidal catastrophe looms, but it is Quetta that has made world headlines this month.
Assassins from the Sunni Lashkar-e-Jhangvi (LeJ) group detonated bombs at a snooker hall in the Hazara enclave of Alamdar Rd on January 10, killing 92 people, including at least one Australian citizen.
The attack followed years of harassment and murder, with Shi’ites routinely pulled off buses and slaughtered or gunned down.
More than 800 people have been killed since 1999 and now the extremists, who have links with Pakistani security forces and operate with impunity, have vowed to finish the job.
The LeJ has vowed to kill all Hazaras who do not flee the city this year.
The Pakistani Government has sacked the regional government and sent in the paramilitary police into Quetta, but Hazara leaders expect the attacks to continue.
Hazaras in Australia have staged rallies urging Canberra to recognise the plight of their ethnic brethren and to make it easier for people here to get their relatives out of Pakistan.
This is their main concern. Like other refugee groups, Hazaras do not like the re-opening of detention centres in Nauru and PNG or the “no-advantage” rule which means asylum seekers are placed on bridging visas prohibiting work or study.
What really hurts is knowing close family members in Quetta are in grave danger.
Hassan Ghulam says Australian Hazaras have lodged 25,000 applications to bring family members here under this country’s Special Humanitarian Program.
It is possible, he adds, that as many as 50,000 people in Quetta are waiting for these applications to be processed. Some died in the January 10 blast, including the two younger brothers of Melbourne-based student Mokhtar Amini.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has ruled out any one-off evacuation of pending reunion applicants from the city.
New immigration rules exclude people arriving by boat since August 2012 from applying to have relatives join them in Australia.
Australia cannot solve the Hazara situation on its own. Our refugee intake of 20,000 a year would be swamped by a large emergency intake from Quetta.
But the special circumstances of the Hazara warrants attention. They are a friendless minority at extreme risk in Pakistan and Afghanistan.
This has been the case since the late 19th century when Abdur Rahman Khan, the ethnic Pashtun emir of Afghanistan, crushed Hazara revolts, forcing many to flee.
As such, they are almost 100 per cent certain to be genuine refugees, not economic migrants. Canberra should consider expediting some family reunion applications involving Hazara trapped in Quetta.
And it should review efforts by the Australian Federal Police working with the Pakistani Federal Investigative Agency to track down people smugglers in Quetta.
It is no crime to help individuals escape a siege.