ISLAMABAD: The Australian government has offered asylum to over 2,500 Hazara families of Balochistan and urged the United Nations refugee agency in Pakistan to facilitate migration of the community facing sectarian violence, Australian embassy sources said.
Jim O’Callaghan, assistant secretary of the humanitarian branch of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship Australia, had held a meeting with UNHCR officials last week and discussed the asylum offer with them, First Secretary Australian High Commission Sherief Andrawos told Dawn on Wednesday.
The UNHCR was informed that Australia was willing to accommodate 2,500 families or 7,000 individuals of the Hazara community, keeping in view attacks on them.
“Yes we have started work on facilitating members of Shia minority and other people prone to sectarian violence for giving them refuge in Australia. The Australian government wants our assistance in this regard,” Maya Ameratunga, deputy representative of United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Pakistan, confirmed to Dawn.
On Saturday, over 100 members of the Shia Hazara community were killed in a bomb attack in Quetta. The dead included 33 registered Afghan refugees, triggering condemnation from the UNHCR that asked authorities to protect the lives of refugees in this hour of sadness.
Official sources told Dawn that the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions (Safron) had been informed about Australia’s offer.
The resettlement process would be taken up after the return of UNHCR’s Country Representative Neil Wright to Pakistan from Geneva.
“The resettlement process is a complicated issue as we have to identify the most vulnerable and affected families of Hazara Shia community in Balochistan,” Ms Ameratunga said, adding that they would soon give a list of 2,500 families to the Australian government.