Life or death for Hazaras: Australia has a moral obligation to act, now

Sitarah Mohammadi and Sajjad Askary

The Guardian

The Taliban killings have ramped up again in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, refugees wait in limbo in Australia and other western countries

A shovel of dirt is thrown on a grave in Kabul, as Hazara men stand in the background

‘The danger to Hazara lives is not distant. It is now’: Afghan Hazaras attend the funeral of a bombing victim in Kabul last month. Photograph: Rahmat Gul/AP

The allied forces are leaving Afghanistan – and already the Taliban are killing individuals. Specifically targeted is Afghanistan’s Hazara community. Hazaras are predominantly Shia Muslims, hold liberal values and promote education. Their educational and cultural success since 2001 pose a living contradiction to Taliban dogma.

In the months to come, persecution by the Taliban will drive large communities of all their targets to seek refuge across the region and international borders. Every one of them will be fleeing for their lives. Australia, the European Union, the United States and Afghanistan’s friends in the global community have a moral obligation towards them.

Hazaras make up 19-25% of Afghanistan’s 38 million population, according to Niamatullah Ibrahimi in his book The Hazaras and the Afghan State: Rebellion, Exclusion and the Struggle for Recognition. International forces are leaving Afghanistan and a worsening security situation behind. The Taliban are targeting the Hazara region of Afghanistan. The danger to Hazara lives is not distant. It is now.

People stranded at the Pakistani-Afghan border wait by the road
People stranded at the Pakistani-Afghan border after it was closed following clashes between Afghan security forces and Taliban militants at Chaman, Pakistan, last week. Photograph: Akhter Gulfam/EPA
Afghan militia with their weapons
Taliban sweep through Herat province as Afghan advance continues
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The Australian government has closed its embassy in Kabul. Australia has also withdrawn its remaining 80 defence personnel from Afghanistan, ending its 20-year mission there. In the wake of western occupation, the Australian government must act on its moral and political obligation to provide protection to high-risk groups, who are in danger of mass atrocities at the hands of the Taliban.

But Australia does not need to maintain a military presence to aid the terrorised people of Afghanistan at this critical time. It can extend meaningful support to the thousands of Hazara refugees already living in our communities here in Australia. Right now, it can relieve the anxiety and suffering of Hazaras who have existed in the limbo of temporary visas for more than eight years.

Many of the Afghan refugees are ethnic Hazaras, who have been found to be refugees but remain stuck on temporary visas. An error on a form can see a permanent protection visa rescinded and refugees returned to temporary protection only. While their homeland continues to disintegrate, Hazara people are punished by visa restrictions, family separation, travel restrictions and no government support. Pathways to citizenship are denied to them. Current policy means that an entire community of Hazaras are living in destitution and in terror of being sent back to Afghanistan.

If these people are sent back to Afghanistan, they will most likely die. As security in Afghanistan rapidly deteriorates, the case for increased resettlement of Hazara refugees becomes even more compelling.

Afghan officers and Australian soldiers walk towards a Black Hawk helicopter in Kandahar
Afghan officers and Australian soldiers on an operation to clear a Taliban insurgent stronghold in northern Kandahar province in 2010. Photograph: Department of Defence

The Australian government can help these Hazaras now. Australia created an additional 12,000 humanitarian visas for Syrians fleeing the violence there in 2015. A similar scheme can be established for the most persecuted and high risk groups, such as the Hazaras, who are already at risk of mass atrocities.

The Australian government could also extend practical support to the thousands of Hazara refugees stranded for years in Indonesia and Malaysia. These refugees cannot settle down in Indonesia and Malaysia, as they are not a signatory to the refugee convention – however, they also cannot return to Afghanistan as it remains precarious and unsafe.

As two of the wealthiest nations in the Asia-Pacific region, which regard themselves as promoters of freedom, democracy, and human rights, Australia and New Zealand have a meaningful capacity to intervene and provide resettlement options. Many of the stranded have close family members in Australia, and communities ready to support them.

As a western country, Australia is also in a position to leverage influence over its allies in the EU, to assist an integrated and sustainable resettlement of refugees. Fleeing Hazaras are also stranded in Greece and continental Europe. In recent years, the EU has increasingly been deporting Afghan nationals, despite a worsening security situation.

The Australian government can also use trade and aid relationships to incentivise the Kabul government to pay greater attention and protection to the most vulnerable groups, such as the Hazaras. Until Afghanistan can provide safe and dignified living conditions for all of its citizens, mass atrocities will continue and refugees will flee to escape them.

If Australia abandons these high-risk groups in need of our help, the Taliban will kill them. No one wants to leave their homelands. Ever. But with the Taliban preparing to reclaim power the choice for Hazaras is to leave – or to die.

 Sitarah Mohammadi is the deputy chair of the Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network, and spent 2019 as a provost scholar at the University of Oxford, undertaking studies in international relations, and completed a dissertation on Australia’s refugee policy. She has a BA in international relations and human rights from Monash University, and is undertaking her juris doctorate (law) at Monash Law School

 Sajjad Askary is the deputy chair of Asia, New Zealand and the Pacific working group at APRRN. He is a BA graduate in international relations, and is a student of juris doctor (law) at Monash Law School

 

Life or death for Hazaras: Australia has a moral obligation to act, now