Azaranica is a non-biased news aggregator on Hazaras. The main aim is to promote understanding and respect for cultural identities by highlighting the realities they face 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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Insight: Pakistani death squads spur desperate voyage to Australia

By Matthew Bigg, Matthew Green and James Grubel

QUETTA, Pakistan/PUNCAK,Indonesia | Wed Oct 24, 2012 6:29pm EDT

(Reuters) - It was 3 a.m. when Abid Warasi and his friend clambered into an Indonesian fishing boat, joining 300 other migrants packed into the hold. Only a few days away by sea, Australia seemed tantalizingly close.

Six hours into the voyage, the craft overturned. The two teenagers clung to the upturned hull. One by one, survivors lost purchase and drifted away, their dreams swallowed by the warm waters of the Java Sea.

"When the boat capsized, the dead bodies came floating above the water," Warasi said, recounting his ordeal in the Indonesian hill town of Puncak, just south of Jakarta. "Our hearts were so sad for them and we were waiting for our own time when we would die."

The heroism that would ensure the pair survived 48 hours in the water is not merely testament to the bond of friendship that has united Warasi and Muhammad Muntaziri since their childhoods in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

Their determination is also a reflection of the ferocity of the persecution unleashed upon their ethnic Hazara community, who are almost all members of Pakistan's Shi'ite minority.

In the past year, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni extremist group, has turned Quetta into a hunting ground. Gunmen shoot Hazaras every few days while leaflets shoved under doorways warn they are infidels deserving of death.

Thousands choose to face the ocean's terrors rather than risk an encounter with the death squads stalking their city's streets.

"Mothers are selling their jewelry so that their sons can leave Quetta for abroad," said Khaliq Hazara, chairman of the Hazara Democratic Party, a Quetta-based political party. "We are under siege."


The 10,000-km (6,000 miles) route from Quetta to established Hazara communities in the more genteel environs of Adelaide, Melbourne or Sydney is just one strand in an ever-shifting web of global migration.

But there are few starker examples of the impact troubles in faraway lands can have on domestic politics than Australia, where a growing influx of refugee boats has reignited a polarizing debate over immigration.

The government passed a law in August to revive a scheme to send asylum seekers rescued at sea to detention centers on far-flung Pacific islands.

Human rights groups condemned the move, saying people could be left languishing in malarial camps for years, isolated from relatives and unable to work.

Warasi and Muntaziri's sheer desperation raises questions over how far the measures will discourage men and women whose quest for a new life has echoes of the voyages of European settlers to Australia in the late 18th century.

"Every day there were killings," said Warasi, recalling life in Quetta. "We got chicken-hearted, like we were in a cage."


Overshadowed by the forbidding hills that define the wild geography of the Pakistani province of Baluchistan, Quetta was once a town where ethnic groups and sects mingled freely. Today, LeJ is offering Hazaras a choice: leave or die.

In the neatly swept lanes of the Hazara enclave of Mehrabad, the fear is palpable. LeJ has turned swathes of Quetta into virtual no-go zones for Hazaras, who number perhaps 500,000 of the city's population of about two million.

As members of both an ethnic minority and Shi'ites, Hazaras make particularly attractive targets for extremists.

"If you went out in the morning you cannot be sure that you'd come back home," said Muhammad Mehdi, who closed his children's' clothing shop in an ethnically mixed market after gunmen went on a shooting spree in April. Like many Hazaras, he is now reluctant to set foot outside Mehrabad.

In the cheerfully decorated classrooms of the district's Ummat Public School, ambitious teenage girls fear their terrified parents will not allow them to venture into the city to attend college.

"We can be like Mark Zuckerberg, we can be like Bill Gates," said Farheen, 15. "We can show the world that we are talented."

A few minutes' drive away, grave-diggers have had to open a new section in the century-old Hazara cemetery to accommodate the rapidly growing number of gunshot and blast victims.

Activists say at least 800-1,000 Hazaras have been killed since 1999 and the pace is quickening. More than one hundred have been murdered in and around Quetta since January, according to Human Rights Watch.

The state's failure to protect them has fuelled Hazaras's suspicions that elements within the security forces still support LeJ, which was nurtured by intelligence agencies in the 1990s as a proxy force.

There are no official figures for the number of Hazaras who have left for Australia, but community leaders say thousands of people like Warasi and Muntaziri have paid people smugglers $10,000-$15,000 to attempt the do-or-die trip....Continue Reading.... 

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