Hazara people protest against Pakistan bombings

Photo: Chris Peterson

More than 200 people from Melbourne’s Hazara community held a three-hour protest in Federation Square on February 25 to draw attention to the rising violence against the Hazara community in Pakistan.

About 100 Hazara people were killed in the latest bomb massacre in the city of Quetta in Balochistan province on February 16.

Several speakers from Melbourne’s Hazara community said that in the past five years, more than 1500 Hazara had been murdered in the Quetta area. Sunni fundamentalist gangs target Hazara on the pretext of their being Shi’a. The racial differences between Hazara and other ethnic groups in Pakistan also makes them easily identifiable.

The Sunni extremist gangs, while illegal, have documented links with the Pakistani military. There have so far been no arrests for attacks on Hazara in Balochistan.

Speakers explained that the rise in anti-Hazara violence was linked to the decades-long violent struggle between the Pakistani state and Baloch nationalists. Religious extremism and violent anti-Shi’a communalism were being promoted by Pakistani intelligence agencies as a diversion from the Balochistan independence struggle.

Speakers condemned UN silence and inaction.

A high proportion of refugees persecuted under Australia’s policy of targeting refugees who arrive by boat are Hazara. Most Hazara refugees in Australia are from Afghanistan. The Hazara community in Pakistan is a mixture of refugees from Afghanistan and people whose ancestors migrated from Afghanistan to escape violence in the 19th century.

A regular tactic used by Australian immigration authorities assessing Hazara asylum claims has been to try to prove a Hazara asylum seeker is from Pakistan on the assumption that Pakistan is safe.

This tactic has been undermined by rising global media coverage of atrocities such as the February 16 bombing, but the Australian government is now trying to argue that Afghanistan is safe.

Migration agent Liz Thompson used the protest to condemn Australian Federal Police and intelligence working with Pakistani security agencies in programs to disrupt refugee movements. She drew attention to the case of Ali Shah, a Hazara would-be asylum seeker who was shot dead in Karachi on April 4, last year.

Shah had travelled to Karachi hoping to fly to south-east Asia after being prevented from boarding a flight in Islamabad by Pakistani authorities working in coordination with Australian agencies.

He was assassinated by terrorists linked to the Pakistani security establishment after being identified to Pakistani authorities as a potential asylum seeker by Australian authorities. Thompson said this raises questions about Australia’s role.