Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras and Hazarajat...The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they are facing on daily basis...Hazaras have been the victim of active persecution and discrimination and one of the reasons among many has been the lack of information, awareness and disinformation...... To further awareness against violence, disinformation and discrimination, we have launched a sister Blog for youths and youths are encouraged to share their stories and opinions; Young Pens

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Refugee groups say government advice on Hazara asylum-seekers is wrong

Joe Kelly
  • From: The Australian

  • October 01, 2010 2:47PM



  • REFUGEE groups fear a "flawed" government assessment of Afghanistan will unfairly taint asylum-seekers' applications to stay in Australia.
    The assessment by the Australian embassy in Kabul, dated February 21, says many ethnic Hazaras in Afghanistan are fleeing the country as economic migrants, not genuine refugees, and that they are living in a “golden age”.
    However the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade advice was today condemned by refugee groups and greeted with scepticism by academic experts.
    The Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre's executive director and principal solicitor, David Manne, said the document was “notorious” and was one of the “key sources” used to reject Afghan asylum claims.
    Processing of Afghan asylum-seekers is about to resume after a six-month suspension lifted yesterday by the Gillard government.
    Refugee groups are worried the DFAT assessment will continue to be used to determine whether hundreds of Afghan asylum-seekers, most of them from the Hazara ethnic minority, should be able to stay in Australia or be ordered home.
    Mr Manne said the document was at odds with the bulk of evidence which pointed to a deteriorating situation in the war-torn country.
    He said it cast “serious doubts” on how the government's decision-making process would work following the lifting of the six-month freeze on processing of Afghan asylum-seekers.
    “The big question here is whether or not decision-making is going to be consistently fair and evidence-based, or whether it's going to be infected by the same serious flaws and dubious context we've seen in recent months,” Mr Manne told The Australian Online.
    The refugee lawyer said the Department of Immigration needed to provide the “full and proper particulars” of the information in the assessment of Afghan asylum-seekers, arguing its “consistent refusal” to do so was a “clear-cut flagrant denial of natural justice”.
    The proportion of Afghans who are having their claims for refugee status accepted has fallen from 95 per cent at the start of the year to about 30 per cent.
    Refugee advocate Phil Glendenning, director of the Edmund Rice Centre, said he was “staggered” by the DFAT assessment.
    Mr Glendenning said Hazaras in Afghanistan sent back during the Howard government years were telling him that the “situation on the ground is less safe than it ever has been, particularly those in Ghazni province”.
    “A couple of days ago, the lieutenant governor of Ghazni province was assassinated by a suicide bomb. Most of the Hazaras who are waiting in Australian detention centres are from Ghazni province,” he said.
    Associate Professor at the Centre for Immigration and Multicultural Studies at the Australian National University, James Jupp, also said he thought the assessment was “a bit over the top”.
    “I don't think anybody's having a golden age at the present moment. You'd have to have a strong imagination to believe that,” he said.
    Professor Jupp wondered how well informed the Australian embassy was.
    “How would they actually know?” he asked.
    “Most of our embassies in small Asian countries have a small staff - you can't travel very freely in Afghanistan.”
    DFAT's assessment has also been questioned by the ANU's Afghan expert, Professor William Maley, who says Hazaras have faced persecution in Afghanistan since the 19th century.
    “There is no reason to believe that the underlying factors (both ethnic and sectarian) fuelling hostility towards Hazaras have dissipated,” Professor Maley said in June.

    News Source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/foreign-affairs/refugee-groups-say-government-advice-on-hazara-asylum-seekers-is-wrong/story-fn59nm2j-1225932865695

    Amnesty slams advice on Afghanistan

    Karlis Salna
    October 7, 2010

    AAP
    A leading human rights group has slammed the advice being used by Labor to reject Afghan asylum seekers, warning security in Afghanistan is now at its worst in a decade.
    The warning extends to regions which are the chief sources of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat, including the province of Oruzgan where Australian soldiers are based.
    The federal government last week lifted a six-month freeze on the processing of Afghan asylum seeker applications, citing a better understanding of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan.
    Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it was now likely more Afghans would have their claims for asylum rejected and eventually be returned home.
    The proportion of Afghans who are having their claims for refugee status accepted has already fallen from 95 per cent at the start of the year to about 30 per cent.
    But Halima Kazem, a researcher with Amnesty International with almost 10 years experience in Afghanistan, said nothing had changed to justify rejecting more Afghan asylum seekers, including ethnic Hazaras.
    Hazaras make up the vast majority of Afghan asylum seekers arriving in Australia but, being Shia, are persecuted by the Sunni Taliban.
    "The situation is worse than it has been for the last nine years," Ms Kazem said.
    "(The Taliban is) now present in almost every province in Afghanistan with the exception of just a few."
    The government has previously cited improved conditions for ethnic Hazaras as justification for rejecting more Afghan asylum claims.
    A leaked cable from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) also disputes the claims of Hazaras, saying the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) was "not convinced that the majority of Hazara protection-seekers abroad were genuine".
    Ms Kazem said it was simply not the case that the situation for Hazaras had improved, including in Oruzgan.
    "They are generally from Ghazni or they're from Oruzgan province," Ms Kazem said of the Afghan asylum seekers in detention in Australia.
    "The way that it's probably described to the Australian government is that within the centre of where these people live in those communities it might be somewhat secure.
    "But to say `it's safe, there's no daily fighting, send them back', that's not an accurate picture or context."
    The regional chief with the UNHCR, Richard Towle, has also questioned the advice in the cable, saying the DFAT assessment did not reflect his organisation's official position.
    The advice from DFAT is likely to feed into a Country and Policy Guidance Note to be released within weeks and to be used to assess future Afghan issues.
    A number of non-government organisations, including Amnesty, are currently being consulted about the guidance note.
    Ms Kazem, who has been interviewing Afghan asylum seekers housed at the Curtin airbase and at Darwin, will meet with Department of Immigration officials on Friday, as well as representatives from the Refugee Review Tribunal and Independent Merrits Review panel.
    "The speculation about this note, or what I hear, that more Afghans are going to be rejected because there's more of a positive spin on the security situation in Afghanistan, if that is what is in this note, then definitely my presentation will not agree with that," she said.
    The comments come as authorities begin processing 1200 asylum seekers affected by the suspension, which is largely blamed for overcrowding in Australia's detention network.
    There are more than 5000 people in immigration detention in Australia in facilities on the mainland and on Christmas Island, of whom about half are from Afghanistan.

    News Source: http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/amnesty-slams-advice-on-afghanistan-20101007-169e8.html

    'War Does This to Your Mind'

    By Kathy Kelly

    Kabul-- Khamad Jan, age 22, remembers that, as a youngster, he was a good student who enjoyed studying. “Now, I can’t seem to think,” he said sadly, looking at the ground. There was a long pause. “War does this to your mind.”

    He and his family fled their village when Taliban forces began to attack the area. Bamiyan Province is home to a great number of Hazara families, and Khamad Jan's is one of them. Traditionally, other Afghan ethnic groups have discriminated against Hazaras, regarding them as descendants of Mongolian tribes and therefore inferior.

    During the Taliban attacks, Khamad Jan’s father was captured and killed. As the eldest, Khamad Jan bore responsibility to help provide for his mother, two brothers and two sisters. But he struggled with debilitating depression, so much so that villagers, anxious to help, talked of exorcism. One day, he said he felt ready to give up on life. Fortunately, community members and his friends in a local youth group, the "Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers," have helped him come to terms with the pain he feels, assuring him that he can find a meaningful future.

    Khamad Jan’s village is a particularly hard place in which to build houses, roads or farms. He and his family own a small plot of land which produces potatoes and wheat. The family works hard, but they only grow enough to feed themselves for seven months of the year. For a few months of every year, they must depend heavily on bread and potatoes, a carbo-diet which leads to malnutrition. Like other women in the village, Khamad Jan’s mother and sisters are chronically anemic, suffering from headaches and leg cramps.

    Assisted by an interest-free loan from a private corporation called Zenda, Khamad Jan has taken the risk of starting a small business producing potato crisps.

    Afghan potatoes are delicious, and Khamad Jan hopes that the quality of his crops will give him a slight competitive edge, but a popular brand from the farmer-subsidizing U.S. is flooding the market.

    Previously, he had run a small potato crisp production operation in the Bamiyan bazaar, and even added sale of cookies and cakes, but the costs of rent, oil and fuel were prohibitive, and he couldn’t make a profit.

    The Zenda Corporation, at the urging of youth group coordinator Hakim, offered him a larger loan, but Khamad Jan felt intimidated by the financial risk of accepting it. To help him shoulder the fear of taking this loan, Hakim, a member of the Zenda group, converted the arrangement into a shareholder status.

    Khamad Jan ran the business without a salary, and Zenda, as a shareholder, pumped in investment. Now, after two years, Khamad Jan has felt secure and confident enough to accept a direct loan from Zenda.

    We met him at a site in a new settlement, on the outskirts of Bamiyan city, where he coordinates construction of a small facility to house the potato chip production line. Earlier, we had visited a shed that he rents to store his main pieces of equipment, a potato slicer and a bag sealer. When the new factory is completed, he’ll move the equipment in and start production.

    Maybe, just maybe, the family can break out of poverty. Khamad Jan says that they’ve needed help to do this, but he specifies that they need the help to reach them directly rather than through organizations that use resources for their own benefit. Earlier, his sisters were more assertive, telling us that much of the “help” they hear about on the radio goes to people who are corrupt and don’t share it.

    Khamad Jan’s sisters and mother say that government officials aren’t involved in their lives; in fact they never see or hear of any governance action beyond their own village council.

    But they face severe problems which they wish the government could help them solve. For instance, electricity is available only two hours per day. The roads are almost impassable, and it’s difficult for the children to obtain an education.

    In her 40 years of life, Khamad Jan’s mother has experienced 30 years of war.

    She remembers that when she was 10, fleeing the Soviet invasion, her whole village had to trek into the mountains through snow. “Some were on donkeys,” she recalled, “and some were carried on the backs of others.” Families on the run couldn’t adequately assist all of their loved ones. Many people weakened in the journey, especially the very young and very old, and this led to calamitous falls from the mountain which she and her neighbors could only watch.

    She fears yet another attack.

    Neither she nor her daughters had ever heard of the 9/11 attack in the U.S. Nor were they aware that the U.S. had invaded their country in October of 2001.

    “We are illiterate women,” said one of her daughters, “but we want a chance to find good, dignified work so that we can take care of their families.”

    Above all, they want to live without the constant fear of war.

    “The world says they are helping us,” said a neighbor of Khamad Jan’s, while we were visiting his mother and sisters. “How? By dropping bombs?”

    “War destroys people,” Khamad Jan concluded, after giving us a tour of the developing potato crisp production factory. Again, he stared at the ground as he thought about what he would say. “It destroys our livelihood. It damages our minds.”

    “All the players in this war have their own purposes for being here,” he added, after a long pause. “There is absolutely no benefit to the people here from the wars that are being fought.”

    Hakim’s hand was on Khamad Jan’s shoulder as he translated this for us. Finally, Khamad Jan raised his eyes. We thanked him for speaking to us about his thoughts. And then he went back to work.
    News Source: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/101024-kelly-columnspeacevoice.html

    Friday, October 22, 2010

    Bamiyan Diaries – Day One

    Bamiyan Diaries – Day One

    By David Smith-Ferri

    Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan, a stunningly beautiful mountainous region, is located in the center of the country, roughly 100 miles from Kabul. Most people here live in small, autonomous villages tucked into high mountain valleys, and work dawn to dusk just to scratch out a meager living as subsistence farmers, shepherds, or goatherds. The central government in Kabul and the regional government in Bamiyan City exercise little or no control over their lives. They govern themselves, and live for the most part in isolation.

    Given this, who would imagine that Afghan youth from small villages across Bamiyan Province would come together to form a tight-knit, resilient, and effective group of peace activists, with a growing network of contacts and support that includes youth in other parts of the country and peace activists in the U.S. and in Palestine? I certainly wouldn’t have. In the United States, we may find it hard to believe that anything good can actually come out of Afghanistan, or we may have fallen into a trap of thinking that Afghans cannot accomplish anything useful without foreign aid and assistance. I confess that I struggle to live outside the shadow of this narrow-mindedness and ethno-centrism. Certainly, if the scope of our imaginations is limited by CNN and Fox News, we would not be likely to imagine an indigenous peace group forming in Bamiyan Province. But this is exactly what has happened.

    Calling themselves the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV), they range in age from eight to twenty, and they have been active for over two years, translating their camaraderie and the horror of their families’ experience of war and displacement into a passionate and active pacifism. At an invitation from AYPV, three American peace activists from Voices for Creative Nonviolence have arrived in Bamiyan for five days to build bridges of friendship and support with these youth and their families. Over this time, we will write a daily diary of our experiences and interactions with the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers.

    Meeting the AYPV

    We arrived in Bamiyan in bright sunshine after a 40-minute United Nations flight from Kabul on a 1960s-era, Russian helicopter, with messages (“no smoking”) and identifications (“main rotor shaft”) in Russian and English. Stiff and slightly sickened by the jarring flight and the diesel and jet fuel exhaust, we disembarked from the helicopter and stepped into the Bamiyan Valley, the bright autumn sunshine, and the equally bright faces and smiles of the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers, all of whom were lined up and waiting for us eagerly. There was no question about our carrying our own luggage, which the Afghan youth whisked away politely but firmly. Fifteen-year old Abdulai, a small-boned and lean but very sturdy Hazara boy from a potato-farming family, hefted my very heavy suitcase over his back like, well, like a sack of potatoes! He dismissed my objections good-naturedly with a smile and said to me with what seemed a mixture of pride and matter-of-factness, “It’s OK. I am a mountain boy.” There is an Afghan saying, “The first time we meet, we are friends. The second time, brothers (sisters).” We were certainly greeted in this spirit today.

    In a country occupied by a foreign power, bleeding from military, political, and ethnic violence, worn by decades of war and corruption, the AYPV are looking for meaningful ways to raise a voice of nonviolence. Because there is so much suspicion and strife among the major ethnic groups in Afghanistan – Pashtun (44%), Hazara (18%), Tajik (25%), and Uzbeck (7%) – the group has sought ethnic diversity, both as a symbol of the need for reconciliation and to teach themselves tolerance. At present, there are only Hazara and Tajik people in the group, largely because the population of Bamiyan Province is almost exclusively Hazara and Tajik. And there are no girls or young women in the group.

    To address this, the group developed a relationship with a staff person at an orphanage in Kabul where many Pashtun children live, and earlier this year several AFPV members visited the orphanage. The trip to Kabul (by road), which requires passing through areas controlled by Pashtun people, was itself a courageous act, as was the act of showing up at the orphanage with their message of nonviolence. Their courage was rewarded. Seeds were planted among Pashtun youth at the orphanage, and a follow-up visit is planned.

    Over dinner this evening, after we introduced ourselves, we talked about prejudice and the intolerance that is such an obstacle to peace in Afghanistan. Mohammad “Jan” (a term of endearment), a soft-spoken, strikingly handsome Tajik and at twenty the oldest member of the group, began the discussion by saying, “War is increasing prejudice and divisions in Afghan society, because much of the fighting is happening along ethnic lines.” The conversation became personal, as some of the boys discussed their own struggle with prejudice. “I was prejudiced against Pashtuns and Tajiks when I joined the group, but these prejudices are now gone,” Abdulai says. Ali, a fourteen year old Hazara boy, concurs: “ I was prejudiced against Tajiks. Now Mohammad Jan and Faiz (another Tajik member of the group) are like my brothers. There is still a great deal of prejudice in the general community. The solution is to make friends.” Zekirullah, a stocky 11 year old Hazara boy, commented: “I had great prejudice against Tajiks and Pashtuns, because it is so widespread among Hazaras. Sometimes I still feel this prejudice.”

    Over the time the group has been together, there have been cutting remarks, especially against Mohammad Jan and Faiz, the two Tajiks. Because Tajiks are Sunni, Hazaras (who are Shia) may see them as “infidels.” “Often we refuse to see each other as human beings,” Mohammad Jan said. “Instead, we see Tajik, Pashtun, Hazara, Shia . . . I think we have to have a long-term viewpoint. And young people are the key. Old people are like full grown trees which can’t bend. But young people are like saplings. They can change their direction.”

    News Source: http://www.huntingtonnews.net/columns/101020-smith-columnspeacevoice.html

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~

    Kathy Kelly, Jerica Arents, and David Smith-Ferri are Co-Coordinators of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (http://www.vcnv.org/). They are currently traveling in Afghanistan.