Ethnic Hazaras Fleeing Pakistan in Dangerous, Uncertain Journey to Safety

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By Rabu,

Father and brother of Sadiq Ali. (Photo: Naeem Sahoutara)

Ethnic Hazaras say that over the past year, Taliban-linked militant groups have killed hundreds in their community, including women and children.

Persecuted in their homeland of Quetta, in Pakistan, many from the Shia minority are fleeing the country, hoping to resettle in Australia.

In a special three-part cross-border series, we track the journey of several young Hazara men as they travel across three countries. 

Asia Calling correspondent Naeem Sahoutara from where it starts, with one Hazara family in Quetta.

Five-year-old Mohammad Raza is holding a photograph of his uncle Sadiq Ali.

He believes his uncle is in Australia and that he will soon send a toy aero plane.

But, his grandmother knows that Sadiq Ali is detained abroad. Sadiq left, she says, because he didn’t see any hope for his future in Pakistan.

“It was a tough time for him here,” she says, “He ran his own shop but got tired of having no work because the area was unsafe. So he left the country.”

Sadiq, 22, is part of the Shia Hazara community in Quetta, a town in southwestern Pakistan.

He wanted to become an actor but the rising number of attacks forced him to give up his dreams, like many other young talented Hazaras here.

The final straw was the winter day he opened his shop and found a letter on the counter. It was a note from extremists threatening him to leave or face death.

A few weeks ago his family gathered to celebrate Eid, but with Sadiq gone there is sadness within the family during what is supposed to be a happy time.

“He is my son and a part of my heart. He is my eldest child. I miss him all the time, not only on Eid,” she says, “I haven’t forgotten him, not even for a single minute. He is my nice and obedient son. I am always worried whether he has eaten or not, whether he has managed to sleep.”

The mineral-rich province of Quetta has long been targeted by the Taliban and over recent years the province has seen a number of attacks against the Hazara.

Religious extremist groups have openly claimed responsibility for the Hazara deaths.

They are targeted because they are Shia Muslims – and with distinct facial features and light skin, they are easily recognized.

In 2013 two suicide bombers targeted a snooker shop and the busy market in Quetta, killing around 100 men and women. Nearly 120 people were also injured in the attacks.

Thousands of Hazaras have since fled to other cities in Pakistan and are living in hiding.

And for some Hazara parents, like Sadiq Ali’s father, they are sending their young children out of the country if they can.

“I was confused about whether to send him abroad or not when he was living with us. But, finally I sent him because his life was in danger,” he explains, “Here he could not even go to the market and would remain indoors all the time due to threats.”

Around 100,000 Hazaras, mostly young men in their early 20s, have migrated to other countries in the past three decades.

After the September 2013 attacks, Sadiq Ali left the country with twelve of his friends.

They travelled through Iran and Qatar and then to Malaysia and Indonesia, where they tried to take a boat illegally to Australia.

But they were arrested at sea,

and for the past two years Sadiq has been living in a shelter run by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The Islamic year starts with the mourning month of Muharramul Haram. For the Shia Hazaras in Pakistan it’s a reminder of a painful past.

Their mourning congregations and processions have been met bomb blasts many times.

Even though they miss him, Sadiq Ali’s family says they don’t want him to come back.

“We sent him to go to the Australia because of the poor security situation in the Quetta. When he was here every day he would advise the siblings to look after their parents if he gets killed,” she says, “It’s safer for him to live in Australia because the situation in Quetta is very bad.”

Each day Sadiq and his family talk via WhatsApp or Skype, telling each other they are alive and okay.

Sadiq is one of 10,000 illegal migrants that are now living in Indonesia, hoping that one day they might make it to Australia. Most of them are Hazaras from Pakistan…

Stay tuned for the next part in this series, where I travel to Indonesia to find Sadiq and learn more about life in limbo for Pakistan’s Hazaras…


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