February 25, 2013
Hazara protestors in front of the United Nations office in Canberra Photo: Alex Ellinghausen / Fairfax
The Gillard Government has been urged reassess the claims for refugee status of scores of asylum seekers from the Hazara ethnic minority in the light of escalating violence in Pakistan.
Many of those who attended protests in Melbourne, Canberra and Brisbane on Monday were mourning the deaths of friends and relatives in the most recent attack, in which more than 100 Hazaras, mainly women and children, died on the outskirks of Quetta last week.
Among them were several whose bridging visas have either expired, or are about to expire, and face deportation after their claims for refugee status were rejected.
Nadir, whose wife and five children are living less than 800 metres from the last week’s attack, says his youngest children need counselling for the trauma they have witnessed. ‘‘Apart from massacre and blood, there is nothing there for them. All the see and hear is blood, screams and explosions.’’
After fleeing from a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan, Nadir, whose full name is withheld, says he cannot understand why his application for protection was rejected. Nadir spent two years in detention and his temporary bridging visa expired a few days ago.
Another of the asylum seekers at the Melbourne protest, Ataullah, says his visa expires on March 4 and that he is overcome with worry about his wife, who is still in Afghanistan.
Pamela Curr, of the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre, says there are around 100 Hazaras whose claims were rejected when the success rate of Afghan applications plummeted from around 90 per cent to around 30 per cent.
‘‘Their cases are the same as those who were successful – people whose fathers and brothers were killed, who were driven off their land by the Taliban because they were Hazara,’’ she said.
Another of the Hazaras at the Melbourne protest, Hassan Nasiri, has refugee status but has so far been unable to bring his immediate family to Australia. His son was among more than 200 who were injured in Quetta last week.
‘‘There is no security for our people over there – the United Nations admits and the government of Pakistan is either unable or unwilling to provide it,’’ says Nadir. Hazaras are overwhelmingly Shiite Muslims and comprise around nine per cent of Afghanistan’s population of about three million. More than half a million Hazaras reside in neighbouring Pakistan, and a similar number in Iran, many of them having fled from Afghanistan.
One of the organisers of yesterday’s Melbourne protest, Ali Rahimi, said their aim was to raise awareness of the plight of the Hazaras, who were being targeted because of their support for democracy in Afghanistan. ‘‘We want the international community to know there is a genocide happening and they have an obligation to do something.’’
The chief executive of the Refugee Council of Australia, Paul Power, said Australia, as a United Nations Security Council member, was in a position to focus international pressure on Pakistan to provide a safer environment for Hazara people.
“If the Australian Government is concerned about the movement of Hazara asylum seekers to Australia, it must be active in addressing the key factors that force people to move on from places where they have originally sought refugee protection.”
Mr Power urged the government to review the claims of all of those who faced the prospect of forced return to Afghanistan and Pakistan.