The Hazara ethnic minority lives largely in Afghanistan, and makes up around nine per cent of the country’s population.
ETHNICITY AND RELIGION
The Hazara ethnic minority lives largely in Afghanistan, and makes up around nine per cent of the country's population, however there are also communities living in Iran and Pakistan.
Their name is Persian for “one thousand” and relates to a myth that the Hazara descended from 1,000 troops that accompanied Genghis Khan during the conquest of the Eurasian base.
The group is overwhelmingly Shiite rather than Sunni Muslim, giving them two major points of difference from the majority of the Afghan population.
“The combination of being a sectarian as well as an ethnic minority has put them in real risk historically in the country, where they tend to be marginalised and where they tend to be the first people victimised when the situation gets rough,” Professor Wiliam Maley, Director of the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy at ANU, told SBS.
“The cultural differences are not enormous, but extremist groups like the Taliban movement, which is made up of Sunni Muslims, tend to regard Shiite Muslims as heretics on doctrinal grounds. And while Hazaras tend to be a fairly harmless group in the community in which their based, to extremists their very existence can be an affront.”
The Hazaras have been the targets of multiple documented massacres and human rights abuses at the hands of Taliban forces.
Police attributed the decapitation murders of eleven Hazara men in the Uruzgan province in June 2010 to the Taliban, and in December 2011 a suicide bomb at a Shiite shrine killed more than 80 worshippers.
In August 1998, more than 2,000 Hazara Afghans were killed in three days by the Taliban in the northern Afghanistan city of Mazar-I Sharif.
Professor Maley says this incident was the primary trigger for the 1999 outflow of Hazara refugees to other parts of the world – including by boat to Australia.
“These kinds of events have planted in the minds of Hazaras a terrible apprehension about what the future would hold for them,” he said.
“Hazaras are typically not persecuted at the moment by the Afghan government but the Afghan government is weak in many parts of the country and quite understandably with the Taliban continuing to operate from sanctuaries in nearby Pakistan, many Hazaras fear that the Taliban is going to come back as international forces are withdrawn.”
Violence against Hazaras is also perpetrated in neighbouring Pakistan.
In February this year, 89 people died and more than 200 were injured when a bomb hidden in a water tank exploded in a Shiite-dominated area of Quetta.
It was the second time Hazaras had been targeted in five weeks.
Sunni extremist group Lashker-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack.
Amnesty International's Alex Pagliaro told SBS the targeting of Hazaras in Pakistan and Afghanistan -- both in bomb attacks and targeted killings of individuals -- has increased over the last year.
“The Hazara have always been a group that have faced particular persecution. What we have seen in Afghanistan is that in the last 4-5 years the situation did improve but more recently it has started to decline again with the resurgence of warlords and the Taliban,” she said.
FEBRUARY 20 - HAZARAS PROTEST ACROSS AUSTRALIA
Hundreds of members of the Hazara community in Australia have staged protests across the country, demanding more be done to ensure the safety of their people in Pakistan.
HAZARA ASYLUM SEEKERS
As of June 2012, 10.3 per cent of humanitarian visas granted in 2011-2012 were to people born in Afghanistan. The figures are not broken down to ethnicity groups, however Professor Maley says the overwhelming majority of Afghan people recently arriving by boat have been Hazara.
The Hazara community in Australia is around 10,000 strong, and they are pleading the government not to forcibly return Hazara asylum seekers to Afghanistan if their claim is rejected.
Last week a letter making this request was signed by 30 Afghan MPs and delivered to the Australian Parliament.
“The interesting thing about that particular letter was that it was signed not just by people who were themselves Hazaras, but by other MPs as well,” said Professor Maley.
“I think that reflects a familiarity with the dangers that can exist in some of the more remote localities of Afghanistan, that sometimes the embassies and international organisations in Kabul are sometimes not well placed to pick up.”
Ms Pagliaro said getting up to date information from inside parts of Afghanistan was difficult.
“Our researchers can't go into some of the more dangerous areas where the Hazaras are targeted because in places where minority ethnic groups are targeted, human rights defenders and activists are also very much at risk.”
She says this is why the government should be taking extra care when looking at applications for asylum.
“The situation of Hazaras in Afghanistan is not so bad that we would call for an immediate halt on all deportation regardless of their claim or their situation,” she told SBS.
“We do think that every case needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis, however there is really strong country information coming out of Pakistan and even from Afghanistan that should be compelling the government to take a really close look at what information they're using to justify returning Afghan Hazaras, and whether there is any updated information that could be superseding reports from 2009 or 2010.”
“I think we need to remember that many of these individuals are not simply Hazara but also have other points of vulnerability; they claim they worked for the government or they are highly educated. It's often that combination of factors that makes someone particularly at risk.”
DATELINE, OCTOBER 16, 2012 - BATOOR'S JOURNEY
An Afghan asylum seeker films his desperate attempt to reach Australia, including the panic as his boat starts to sink off the Indonesian coast.