Graeme Swincer, 30 September 2017
Yesterdays’ Ashura Day attack on a packed mosque of Shia Islam worshippers in Kabul1 continues a tragic succession of deadly incidents aimed against ethnic Hazaras (essentially corresponding to Shias in Afghanistan), especially over the past 15 months. Against a background of deteriorating security all over the country the Hazaras are especially and increasingly vulnerable to persecution and targeted violence by Sunni extremists, who regard them as infidels. The evidence is now overwhelming, but Australia insists on maintaining an attitude of denial against which it can reject Hazara claims for protection and forcibly deport them to a situation of even greater danger than that from which they fled. This policy is clearly dishonest, unprofessional and potentially murderous. As Amnesty’s Anna Shea2 says, “they will have blood on their hands”.3
On 23 July 2016 suicide bombers attacked a group of Hazaras protesting in Kabul killing 90 and wounding at least 230. ISIS claimed responsibility and expert commentators warned of the readiness and capacity of ISIS operatives to replicate such attacks anywhere in the nation. However our Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade played it all down, stating
“ . . . it is too early to say whether this attack was an isolated incident, or if it represents a change in modus operandi of insurgents by introducing a sectarian dimension to attacks.”4,
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection scrambled to deny on-going danger, even when there were further incidents, and the contrary expert opinion was overwhelming. Only other “western” governments issued “information” that downplayed the danger. They continued to refuse protection to Hazara Asylum Seekers and implemented forced deportations. In October 2016 there were further deadly attacks in Kabul and in other parts of the nation, several aimed at Shia mosques as Hazaras gathered for the Ashura holy day. In November 20165 I documented this set of events and the associated expert analysis. Commenting on the most recent kabul bombing at that time Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said6
ISIS has stepped up its horrific and unlawful attacks on Shia public gatherings, making no place safe . . .
Escalation of the impact of war-related violence and of the targeting of Hazaras in the past year has been dramatic and well documented. My latest update, bringing together much of the key information, is being published on the BMRSG website7 . It highlights the existing humanitarian crisis, which is being exacerbated by the unconscionable policies of governments in Europe, Australia and Afghanistan’s neighbours.
Professor William Maley is among a number of experts who have been scathing of any suggestion that Afghanistan is in any way safe or viable for receiving “failed” refugees8:
. . .
it is a serious mistake to conclude that Afghanistan is safe for Hazaras. The disposition of extremists to strike at them has not disappeared. . . .
The simplistic and superficial conclusion that urban centres such as Kabul, Mazar-e Sharif or Herat offer safe or meaningful ‘relocation’ options for Hazaras should be avoided.
Maley pointed out
. . . the danger of thinking that places such as Mazar-e Sharif or Herat can be ‘compartmentalised’, or understood without attention being paid to wider conflict formations within the country”.
A number of other observers and experts have been equally clear about the danger.
Specifically in relation to Hazaras:
• More than a year ago experienced researcher Max Walden9 wrote about the overall dangers facing Hazaras in Afghanistan. In his key article “The forgotten victims of violence”10 Walden noted that:
. . . the reality is that Afghanistan is more unsafe for Hazara than ever.
• Reporting on a deadly attack on a large Shia mosque in Herat, the main city in the west of Afghanistan, on 1 August 2017, the BBC observed11 that:
Areas dominated by Shia Muslims in Afghanistan have been hit by attacks repeatedly in the past year, by both IS and the Taliban. . . . Many of the casualties have been civilians, with injury numbers rising for the past five years as attacks increased.
• Commenting on a deadly August attack on a remote Hazara village in Sar-e Pul Province (killing at least 50), Aljazeera stated:
. the sheer brutality of the attack in Sar-e Pul, going beyond anything the Taliban has done in its recent raids, can be understood only in the light of deeply disturbing ethnic prejudices towards the Hazara group that populate villages such as Mirzaolang.
• Masood Saifullah of DW has written11 that
Taliban and Islamic State fighters have added a new twist to the Afghan conflict by carrying out a number of deadly attacks on the Shiite Muslim minority. Experts warn of increased sectarian clashes in the future.
On the wider security situation:
• In a June 2017 article “Fear penetrates Kabul after deadly cycle of violence”13 , Shereena Qazi of Aljazeera, summarises:
Kabul has just suffered one of the bloodiest weeks in years, leaving its streets devoid of life and its residents gripped by fear – and feeling unprotected.
• Veteran Pakistan journalist and author Ahmed Rashid has become extremely pessimistic. In his recent article “Afghanistan: It’s Too Late”14 , Rashid states:
Taliban attacks will increase, there will be continued loss of territory, and the government may collapse. This is a recipe for failure.
A year ago Rashid was already warning of the impending disaster15
Previous definitions by the EU that Kabul and provincial capitals are safe havens no longer hold true with half a dozen provincial capitals under siege by the Taliban.
. . . A man-made humanitarian catastrophe could be the end result of these governmental policies.
On the folly, even criminality, of deportations to danger:
• Sune Engel Rasmussen, an experienced expert on Afghanistan and one of the few independent foreign freelance journalists still living in Kabul, reported16the October 2016 deal made between EU governments and Afghanistan to deport unlimited numbers of Afghan asylum seekers. He warned of the serious hazards associated with this “Joint Way Forward” which was imposed on Afghanistan under threat of stripping international aid if there was no cooperation. Australia is obviously complicit in this blatant international bullying and violation of Human Rights.
• Anna Shea, Amnesty International’s Researcher on Refugee and Migrants Rights, recently visited Kabul, observed examples of implementation of the “Joint Way Forward” and stated:17
While everyone in Afghanistan is at risk, many of the returned people we spoke to were extremely vulnerable, and their returns likely violated international law.
None of these people should have been sent back. When they walked out of the airport, the country was probably as unknown to many of them as it was to me — and they face far greater risks.
European governments and leaders know Afghanistan is not safe. If they don’t stop deporting people like [A] and [F], they will have blood on their hands.
• In an article “Kabul is still not safe – but the EU is deporting people there anyway”18 , Dr Liza Schuster19, said:
We have known for decades that governments ignore evidence that calls their policies into question, including evidence of high levels of violence in countries to which they intend to forcibly return people. But these denials about what the Joint Way Forward entails are shocking – every bit as shocking as the EU’s willingness to deport people to a deeply troubled and fragile country.
Schuster is also quoted (by Sune Engel Rasmussen, cited above), as saying:
There is not sufficient protection, the level of generalised violence is too high and Kabul is already bursting at the seams . . . .
In spite of all the evidence, the Australian government is unrelenting. The agenda is to deter Hazaras at all costs. Who cares about being professional or even honest? Who cares about human lives?
This week a migration lawyer, who is part of a group of agents helping many asylum seekers, assured me that decision makers continue to assert that Kabul is a safe place for relocation, and that Herat and Mazar-e Sharif are viable alternatives.
I can only quote Anna Shea again: “they will have blood on their hands”.