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Denise Phillips, revised 25 July 2012

Denise Phillips, revised 25 July 2012

Why Hazaras flee: An historical perspective of their persecution1 Submission for the Government’s Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers ______________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Denise Phillips BA (Hons), PhD Candidate, University of New England, 19 July 2012

Quetta are also discussed. The past ethnic and religious animosity against minority

Shiite Hazaras continues to drive the bloodshed today. When we shift our

responsibilities offshore, vilify refugees and pursue a punitive style of deterrence as a

solution, we ignore these past and present atrocities.

Executive summary This paper provides historical information about the source country, Afghanistan. As minority Shiites, Hazaras’ current persecution is borne out of an unresolved, century-old religious and ethnic hatred of them. This has resulted in massacres, dispossession of their lands and decades of institutionalised discrimination. Their persecution was fiercely reignited during the civil war and by the Taliban in the 1990s. Understanding that history is critical to policy-making. Not only are Hazaras dying on boats, but also in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Australia must respond to this over-all crisis with humanity rather than punitive measures. I support the recommendations made in the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s submission and the Open Letter. As Afghanistan moves towards a possible Taliban alliance or faces growing lawlessness, and as Hazaras continue to be slain or attacked in Hazara-populated regions and in neighbouring Quetta, Hazaras are likely to continue to flee and have grounds under the 1951 Refugee Convention to fear persecution. Introduction In addressing the problem of asylum seekers risking their lives on boat journeys to Australia, the reasons for their flight should remain at the forefront of policy-making and political debate. I offer an historical overview of a key source country, Afghanistan, and of the origins of Hazaras’ persecution. Current crises in both Afghanistan and

Abdur Rahman’s subjugation of Hazaras in the nineteenth century

After the traditionally dominant Pashtuns and the Tajiks, Hazaras are the third largest

ethnic group in Afghanistan, although a minority. The Hazaras traditionally live in the

Hazarajat, a loosely defined region within the central highlands. While about 85 percent

of Afghanistan’s population follow Sunni Islam, most Hazaras are Shiite Muslims,

causing them to be condemned as ‘infidels’ at different points throughout history.2

Their suffering began in earnest in the late 1800s. The Hazaras were a semi-

autonomous society living in Afghanistan’s central highlands, the Hazarajat. The entire

Hazara population possibly numbered over half a million, with about 340,000 families

in the Hazarajat. Although not a cohesive group, most were Shiites and spoke the

Hazaragi language, a derivative of Dari. In contrast, their surrounding ethnic groups

were mostly Sunni Muslims and spoke Pashto or Dari.3 Against a backdrop of imperial

tensions between Britain and Czarist Russia, Britain helped install an anti-Russian

Pashtun, Amir Abdur Rahman (1880-1901), on the throne in Kabul in 1880. In between British India and Russia.4

exchange for a British annual subsidy, Afghanistan was to provide a buffer zone

In the previous century, the Pashtun tribal ruler, Ahmad Shah Durrani (1747-1773), had

already established a pattern of subjugating sub-groups and other ethnic groups within

the region. To bring Afghanistan’s many different tribes under a centralised authority,

Abdur Rahman proclaimed the Durrani Pashtuns as supreme and mobilised Sunni Islam

with a patriotic xenophobia. Condemning Shiite Hazaras as ‘infidels’, Rahid Rahman 1 Over-all notes drawn from Denise Phillips, From Afghanistan to Australia: An oral history of...
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