Dawn News

Under attack, Hazaras risk death to flee

Shia Muslims dig graves for their community members at a graveyard in Quetta, Sept 21, 2011, after their killing in an attack by gunmen. — Photo by AFP

QUETTA: As he knelt in prayer to mark one of Islam's holiest days, Ali Raza Qurban saw a childhood friend and dozens of others die in a suicide attack on their Shia mosque.

Sunni militants were again targeting minority ethnic Hazaras in this city of narrow streets and wide-open hatreds.

Qurban decided it was time to leave. He found an agent who would hook him up with a smuggler in Indonesia and, for $8,000, get him to Australia.

But he never made it to Australia. He disappeared on Dec 17, 2011, aboard an overcrowded, rickety wooden boat that capsised within hours of leaving the Indonesian shore.

Four months had passed since the suicide bombing at the mosque in Quetta, where the violence has spawned a vibrant human smuggling business.

The smugglers operate out of small, unidentified shops. Selling promises of a safe and better life in Australia, they largely capitalise on the fear and desperation of the Hazara, a largely Shia community that is facing attacks not only here but in neighboring Afghanistan.

In Quetta, Shia leaders say many of the attacks against Hazaras are carried out by the militant group Lashkar-i-Janghvi.

Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and a panel of three judges last month ordered authorities to investigate allegations that illegally imported vehicles were being used in suicide bombings targeting Shias.

Most of the Afghans who cross into Pakistan with the intention of going on to Australia and elsewhere are thought to be Hazara.

''Every month hundreds of Hazaras leave Afghanistan for another country,'' said Waliullah Rahmani, executive director of the Kabul-based Center for Strategic Studies, a privately funded think tank.

In the last two months more than 20 Hazaras have died in targeted killings blamed on the Taliban, he said.

Hazaras, who were massacred by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban in the late 1990s, fear that the militia will return to power after the departure of US and other Nato service members in 2014, according to Rahmani.

''With 2014 getting closer, most of the Hazaras think that the history will repeat again,'' he said. ''So that is why they risk their lives for illegal immigrations to Australia and other places.''

Many choose Australia because it already has an established Hazara community.

The trip to Australia usually begins in Karachi, stopping either in Thailand or Malaysia before arriving in Indonesia's East Java Island, according to testimony of survivors and local Malaysian authorities.

''Asylum seekers from Pakistan often fly either from Karachi or Lahore to Kuala Lumpur and sometimes enter through Malaysia's northern border with Thailand,'' said a Malaysian home ministry official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is not authorised to speak to the media.

He said laws have been tightened in the last two years, sea patrols increased and cooperation has been stepped up with Pakistan and Afghanistan.

''The people-smuggling groups that facilitate them are generally Pakistani, but Malaysians are sometimes hired for logistics to help in transportation,'' said the official.

Once in Indonesia's East Java, asylum seekers are packed into boats bound for Australia.

The booming business is confounding the governments of Indonesia, which has hunted down and arrested some smuggling kingpins, and Australia, which is being bombarded with more refugees than it is willing to accept.

Australia is trying to discourage prospective asylum seekers with new laws and with offers to take more refugees who choose to enter the country legally.

In August, Australia reintroduced offshore processing centres in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Asylum seekers who are sent there will not be let into the country without going through the same process as those legally seeking protective asylum in Australia.

''The strategy underpins the key message that asylum seekers should think twice before getting on a boat to Australia, because they will be risking their lives at sea for no advantage,'' according to Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

In 2011 four boats sank, killing 109 people. So far this year 23 boats have capsised with 200 people still missing and 2,225 people rescued.

Most of the passengers have been Afghans, Pakistanis and Iranians. Afghans, mostly ethnic Hazaras, make up the largest number of so-called boat people, according to a report by Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

In the first three months of this year, 797 Afghans sought asylum after arriving in Australia aboard dilapidated smugglers' boats. Iranians were a distant second with 132.

For those who seek refugee status entering Australia mostly by air, the odds are long. In the first three months of this year, Australia granted 215 primary protective visas and rejected 1,126, according to the report. The majority applying for those protective visas were from Pakistan and Iran.

And so many turn to smugglers.

In documents acquired by The Associated Press, the Pakistani government was told last year that Quetta, the capital of Balochistan province, had become a thriving human smuggling hub. The documents, which originated from Pakistan's Embassy in Jakarta, were based on interviews with the 49 survivors of the boat that capsised Dec 18.

More than a third of the passengers were ethnic Hazaras, including Ali Qurban, said his father, Saeed Qurban, who had gone to Indonesia's East Java in search of his son.

The elder Qurban, who cradled a framed photograph of Ali throughout an interview with The Associated Press, rifled through a small folder stuffed with newspaper clippings and documents. Several Indonesian newspapers featured front-page photos of Saeed Qurban crying as he searched rows of coffins.

The Pakistan Embassy document, based on interviews with survivors, said there appears to be "a mafia working in Quetta who is using the incidents of target killings and sectarian violence, unleashed against the Shia community particularly the Hazara tribe as a tool to instigate, motivate and persuade the youth to seek asylum in other countries."

"This mafia seems to be deep rooted and has an extensive network in different countries," the document said.

It described interviews with more than 25 Pakistani Shias languishing in immigration detention centers in Indonesia after failing to reach Australia. The refugees all told of the same terror that drove them to leave Pakistan. None was willing to return to Pakistan, preferring to stay in jail in Indonesia in hopes of getting refugee status, said the document, which was given to the president and the prime minister's office.

Yet the trade flourishes.

"Quetta is full of agents. Every day boys are trying to get to Australia," said Fauzia Qurban, Ali's older sister, occasionally burying her face in her hands and weeping as she struggled to tell her brother's story in an interview at her home.

Several agents refused to talk to the AP, and Fauzia Qurban feared for her family's safety if she approached those who helped her brother flee Pakistan.

But she had the name of the kingpin, Said Abbas, who she said orchestrated her brother's journey. Abbas operated out of Indonesia, hiring a phalanx of agents to recruit asylum seekers in Quetta, and is currently serving a 2 ½-year prison sentence in Jakarta for human smuggling.

Abbas, an Afghan national from eastern Ghazni province, was initially arrested in Jakarta in May 2010 but was released on bail. His involvement in the Dec 17 tragedy was revealed by an Indonesian soldier, Ilmun Abdul Said, who went on trial in East Java for his part in arranging the smuggling expedition in which Ali Qurban died.

The boat that went down was 82 feet long and designed to hold 150 to 160 passengers. There were 249 on board when it sank. Ali Qurban was just 22 years old.

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Comments (17) Closed

mehboob malik
Oct 20, 2012 07:52am
indians and american back people are doing this. We cannot blame only Taliban for this. India is doing this with the help of America and all anti-Muslim countries to weak the Pakistan and insha Allah jub tak Allah chahay ga Pakistan kaim rahay ga.
Oct 20, 2012 01:10am
Groups like the Taliban and Lashkar-e-Jhangvi have taken our entire country hostage. Just like the religious right wing, our police is either sympathetic towards them or scared for their lives. And so they dont want to take them on. The same is true about our judges who find excuses and release the few that are caught. It is time for the government to establish laws that will allow our armed forces (since this is a war and our police and judicial systems are inept) to lock up any member even suspected of being part of these terrorist groups. We need to remove these scum bags from our society. They belong in a facility like the one in Guantanemo Cuba. And this should be done publically so that the question of 'missing persons" does not come up.
Oct 19, 2012 06:24am
gud work keep going.......
Oct 20, 2012 07:07am
Why police arrest terrorists?? Why not shoot at sight??
Oct 19, 2012 03:25pm
i am very happy today that my grand father did not move to pakistan during partition by looking at state of pakistan i feel sorry and proud of their decision
raza aly
Oct 18, 2012 10:58pm
I thought that Pakistan was created for all muslims and here is a christian country Australia is allowing them to take refuge. Why the majority is silent and not on the street protesting against this inhuman act. Shame on lashkare- janghvi. R. Aly
Oct 19, 2012 12:33pm
I have endorsed the policy of US and UK against Taliban i.e shoot at sight. Actualy they derseve more, means clustering bombing. They are not humans they are killing inncoent Shias especially Hazara community in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Shame on weak Pakistan judicial system because it has failed to hang a single terrorist caught by the Police in connection with the Shias target killings.
Ravindra sanap
Oct 19, 2012 05:06am
I think Pakistani politicians are okay with it.They dont think it is a major problem.
Oct 18, 2012 11:58pm
I live in the u.k we have jews,christians,hindu's all living peacefully. Nobody fights with each other at all. The problem is the goverment need to crack down hard on terrotist.
Oct 19, 2012 10:06am
its a Genocide in making, God knows when it will notice by world leaders
Shaheryar hussain
Oct 18, 2012 11:53pm
There is no need of mafia for working to instigate the people of targeted killings of hazara people in quetta , it is an open fact everyone sees and knows that hazaras are being targeted and killed every day ,in such a killing situation when and where the state and its machinery has turned. Quite a deaf ear towardsthe targeted killings of hazara people every hazara reserves the right to save his life and choose for a safe heaven.
yawar (@mee_neo)
Oct 18, 2012 01:09pm
shame on this country
Oct 19, 2012 06:45am
Its not surprising for me to see only one comment on such a grave issue. The dead nation likes to comment on Saif / Kareena wedding, issues of extremism favouring Sunni extremists but not on barbaric treatment with Shia Muslims residing in Pakistan. Shame on those basically who changed the mind set of the people of Pakistan. My prayers are with the Shia community, other minorties whether Hindus, Christians etc. etc. and all those who the extremists think to be deprived from their basic right of living. Shame on Talibans, their supporters and the silent majority as because their silence encourage the extremists.
rahim uzaal
Oct 19, 2012 07:42am
those so upset on "Malala attack" are silent on brutal killings of 'Shias'. Why? I am not Shia , mind it, but I ask' "WHY?".
Oct 18, 2012 08:04pm
I hope after the elections in Pakistan, new government do more for the people then them-self and solve some very serious problems like Hazaras.
Fazil K.
Oct 19, 2012 05:16pm
This peaceful coexistence seems to be commonplace in most countries of the world, especially in non-Muslim countries.
Oct 20, 2012 08:34am
Today when every single person is shed tear for malala are neglecting the brutal blood shed being made by extremist religious group in Quetta. Thousand of Malala's were orphaned in these targeted killing. City is left behalf of Terrorists. But no one pays attention towards that. Pakistan is made on the principle of islam, that allow Muslims live according to their beliefs. A country where minorities right could be protected. Malala may be given treatment Berminghum Hospital but who would return father's of many malala killed in Quetta. They could not be saved because that had not affiliation with US authorities or did not have international fame or they are not activist? Why? History says that Hazara Umer R.A fears when he was caliph, if a dog sleeps with out meal on the bank of Furaat, he would have been Question about that. But here every ruler is busy to fulfill there own needs. they should be ashamed of their self.