by Marina Mogli
1. Mohammad, a Hazara refugee and asylum seeker in Sweden
Mohammad’s story starts 23 years ago in Qarabagh, Afghanistan. He is a Hazara, one of the most oppressed ethnic groups of Afghanistan.
Accounting for up to one-fifth of Afghanistan’s population, Hazaras have long been branded outsiders. Their current persecution is borne out of an unresolved, century-old ethnic hatred of them. This has resulted in massacres, dispossession of their lands and decades of institutionalised discrimination. Their persecution was fiercely reignited during the civil war and by the Taliban in the 1990s.
Growing up, Mohammad heard the stories of where his people came from, why they looked different from Pashtuns and Tajiks. Their Asian features—narrow eyes, flat noses, broad cheeks—have set them apart in a de facto lower caste, reminded so often of their inferiority that some accept it as truth. Mohammad was still a young boy when the Taliban rose to power in 1996, promising security to a populace tired of the bitter conflict among ethnic warlords, including Hazara factions. Instead of this, it marked the beginning of another wave of persecution and repression against the Hazara. The Taliban saw them as animals. A Taliban talking about Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnic groups said: “Tajiks to Tajikistan, Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, and Hazaras to goristan,” the graveyard. From 1998 to this day, thousands of Hazaras have been massacred by the Taliban.
The civil war that followed was very ugly. Schools closed, the Taliban killed the teachers or anyone who dared to protest. Crops lay unattended. Families left their properties to Pashtun and fled for Iran, other cities in Afghanistan, for the hills or Pakistan. Taliban forces burned down thousands of homes, shops, and public buildings. They destroyed entire towns in western Bamian Province. Many of Mohammad’s relatives and friends were killed, injured, some went missing and his family escaped to Pakistan to avoid certain death. He never saw them again. Mohammad fled to Iran and from there he managed to get to Greece through a dangerous journey. He had to cross Turkey and was put on a boat to Greece together with other refugees who couldn’t even swim. The sea was rough and they almost drowned. They ran out of food and water because they were in the boat for days. They drank sea water after a point. When they arrived, the authorities found it hard to believe they were in the boat for so many days and survived. They were lucky enough to get to Greece alive. He was 17 years old.
He stayed there for four years, worked hard, had Greek lessons and learned the language. Waiting in order to get his asylum application examined, he was issued temporary permits which he had to renew every couple of months. With the dire financial crisis affecting Greece it became all the more difficult to find work and with the situation for asylum seekers not improving, losing hope of ever getting his case examined, he used all his savings to escape to Sweden. He had hoped that would be the end of his adventures. Unfortunately, there his application for asylum was denied twice on the grounds that it had been a long time since he had left Afghanistan and he could relocate there. He can appeal once more but then he would have to return. He would rather die than go back, since he feels it is a matter of time before the Taliban kill him. He will not be safe anywhere in Afghanistan.
If Mohammad had to go back, he would have two options, both of which would put his life in grave danger: stay in Afghanistan, where he wouldn’t be safe anywhere and even trying to get to any place would mean being killed on the road, or go to Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, in what is now Pakistan, where since the nineteenth century, Hazaras have traditionally fled or migrated to. Over the last decade, however, Hazaras in Balochistan have been dying in an escalating spate of attacks, often occurring daily.
Mohammad’s story is a true story and his fear for his life if he has to go back is very real. He came to Europe to escape the bloodshed and with hopes of a better future. There are hundreds of other Mohammads from Afghanistan, young men who risk their lives crossing dangerous borders to escape the violence in their native land. Mohammad was one of the lucky ones who didn’t die trying like so many others. If he is sent back his life will surely be at risk. Nobody as young as he was when he left would voluntarily leave their homeland if there was no serious reason to do this. He should be given a chance to live in Europe and he should be given a new chance on life. With the situation for Hazaras in Afghanistan being as it is, deportation would equal to a death sentence.
2. The dangers for Hazara people in Afghanistan
In the West it is mistakenly believed that the situation in Afghanistan has improved and it is now safe for Hazaras to go back to Afghanistan. After U.S. forces drove the Taliban from power, the Hazaras thought deliverance was at hand. The Afghan constitution gave fundamental protection to persecuted minorities. However, with critical failures to implement the rule of law beyond Kabul –or even maintain it in Kabul –reform has not translated to improved safety for Hazaras. They are feeling ignored by the government—led as it is by a Pashtun president.
Minority communities continued to have grievances under Hamid Karzai’s government and violence continues. Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission has produced a report on the dreadful series of incidents in this region. The Karzai government has either largely ignored repeated Hazara pleas for assistance or has been impotent in stopping the violence. No justice was gained for atrocities committed, and bloodshed continues to this day.
The security situation in parts of Afghanistan with a Hazara population has greatly affected the livelihood of the inhabitants, posing serious threats to their life, security and freedom. The districts are inaccessible except through Taliban territory, where the road has been reportedly mine and in some areas vehicles have been banned. According to reports, many roads, for instance the road from Qarabagh District to Jaghori, are under particular threat, with ambushes, robberies, kidnappings and killings occurring regularly. Many Hazaras also live in Kabul, where some 40 percent of the population is now Hazara. Conditions are no better for them there. There is a huge Hazara underclass there made up of manual laborers living in neighborhoods that have neither electricity nor clean water, doing the jobs no one else wants. Brutal assaults have also occurred in Kabul recently. The Taliban have also intimidated, threatened and killed individuals suspected of working for, or being supportive of, the Government and the international military forces. Hazaras fear that when NATO troops withdraw in 2014, they will once more be at the mercy of the Taliban.
London-based Minority Rights Group (MRG) has identified the Hazara as the ‘most under threat minority group’ in Afghanistan. Amnesty International has grave concerns with the recent move to start returning Hazara asylum seekers to Afghanistan and Pakistan.
3. Hazara’s genocide in Pakistan
Quetta has long been a ‘second home’ for Hazaras. Possibly 30,000-50,000 Hazara refugees now live in Pakistan after fleeing the Taliban in 1996. However, they couldn’t escape persecution there either. In Quetta there are attacks on Hazara civilians in the streets and a climate of terror. Abdul Karim Hekmat reports that ‘over 500 Hazaras have been killed and over 1,500 injured as a result of targeted’ attacks in Pakistan since 2003. Other sources cite even higher numbers. The continued targeting of Hazaras in Quetta, including the two bombings in recent months with over 100 people killed, shows just how dangerous the situation is for them.
Hazaras and the Asian Human Rights Commission report that the Pakistani government, army and law enforcement authorities are failing to act, openly allowing the banned terror organisation to kill with impunity. Prominent leaders, professionals, intellectuals and policemen have been assassinated, along with a sportsman and artist. The general Hazara population, including women and children, are now also being indiscriminately targeted.
4. Reasons why it is illegal to deport a Hazara
The Hazara should not be deported because international and European laws protect them. For example, the 1948 Convention for the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the United Nations focuses on the protection of national, racial, ethnic and religious minorities from threats to their existence. The 1976 Council of Europe’s Recommendation 773 on the Situation of de facto Refugees and the 2004 European Union’s Council Directive on minimum standards for the qualification and status of third country nationals and stateless persons as refugees or as persons who otherwise need international protection should also be mentioned.
As Afghanistan moves towards a possible Taliban alliance or faces growing
lawlessness, and as Hazaras continue to be slain or attacked in Hazara-
populated regions and in neighbouring Quetta, Hazaras are likely to continue to flee and have grounds under the 1951 Refugee Convention to fear persecution.
Afghnistan: Road Dangers and the Rising Threat of Renewed Ethnic Violence.
http://www.hazarapeople.com/2012/11/08/afghanistan-road-dangers-and-the-rising-threat-of-renewed-ethnic-violence/ [accessed 2-4-2013]
Amnesty International: Imminent deportation poses grave risk for Hazara’s safety.
http://www.hazarapeople.com/2013/03/17/amnesty-international-imminent-deportation-poses-grave-risk-for-hazaras-safety/ [accessed 2-4-2013]
Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. http://www.hrweb.org/legal/genocide.html
Hazara people. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hazara_people [accessed 2-4-2013]
Refugee Documentation Centre of Ireland (2011). Afghanistan. http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4e549ff12.pdf [accessed 2-4-2013]
Refugee Law. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Refugee_law
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Zabriskie, P. (2008). Hazaras: Afghanistan’s outsiders. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/02/afghanistan-hazara/phil-zabriskie-text/1 [accessed 2-4-2013]